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Top N.Y. Times editors step down

June 2003

Top N.Y. Times editors step down

By Jon Friedman,
Last Update: 7:55 PM ET June 5, 2003

NEW YORK (CBS.MW) -- The top two editors at the New York Times resigned Thursday following a series of journalistic fiascoes at the nation's most prestigious newspaper.

Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd both stepped down. Joseph Lelyveld, Raines' immediate predecessor, has been appointed the interim executive editor.

The management change comes as the paper struggles to overcome the damage done by Jayson Blair, 27, a former national desk staffer whose fabrications and deceptions gave rise to an extraordinary series of errors in his three years with the newspaper. He resigned under pressure on May 1.

With the pain of that debacle still raw, the Times suffered again later in the month when it suspended Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg after learning he failed to give credit to associates who helped him with his reporting. Bragg subsequently resigned.

Analysts have said that the scandal surrounding the newspaper isn't likely to hurt the parent company's stock seriously because it's unlikely that the recent events will cause subscribers and advertisers to bolt the Times.

Shares of the New York Times Co. (NYTnewschartprofile) closed down 39 cents at $46.70 on unusually heavy volume of 983,000. Following the paper's announcement, the stock dropped as low of $46.13, vs.. its 52-week high of $53 set last June 20.

Blasting management

Raines and others under him have been severely criticized over the handling of the Blair affair and for creating an atmosphere that allowed the young reporter to go astray. Inside and outside the paper, critics blasted executives for not accepting sufficient blame.

Editorial cartoonists and even late-night talk show hosts alike have taken to ridiculing the paper.

"There was a perception that the Times was allowing all of the blame to fall on one rogue reporter," said Ken Marlin, a partner with the New York media investment banking firm of Marlin & Associates.

On May 11, the Times publicly confronted the affair by publishing an unprecedented 14,000-word narrative detailing the reporter's misconduct. But the furor ignited by the revelations only worsened within the newsroom.

Feeling the heat, Times executives took the unusual step of holding a town hall-style meeting of its staff on May 14. But instead of calming people, the gathering was marked by employees' anger boiling over, and several openly questioned their bosses' abilities.

At the meeting, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. stood by his top editor. Ultimately, however, he acted to restore order by accepting Raines and Boyd's resignations.

Resignation with sadness

"Howell and Gerald have tendered their resignations, and I have accepted them with sadness based on what we believe is best for The Times," Sulzberger, who is also chairman of the Times company, said in a statement.

"They have made enormous contributions during their tenure, including an extraordinary seven Pulitzer Prizes in 2002 and another this year," Sulzberger added. "I appreciate all of their efforts in continuing the legacy of our great newspaper."

Increasingly, Sulzberger himself was under pressure to take decisive action.

"Sulzberger is trying to tell the staff, `I'm listening to you,'" said Joel Kaplan, chair of the newspaper department at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. "The issue of morale is extremely important at the Times."

The publisher told staffers: "While the past few weeks have been difficult, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our employees, our readers and our advertisers to produce the best newspaper we can by adhering to the highest standards of integrity and journalism. For nearly 152 years, The Times has devoted itself to this mission. With the efforts of our outstanding staff, we believe we can raise our level of excellence even higher."

Lelyveld, 66, retired in 2001. He served as executive editor for seven years. During his tenure, The Times won 12 Pulitzer Prizes, introduced color to its pages, added new sections and greatly expanded its national circulation.

"I am grateful to Joe Lelyveld, an editor of superb talents and outstanding accomplishments, for his willingness to provide strong journalistic leadership as we select new executive and managing editors," Sulzberger said.

Lelyveld is faced with a formidable twin challenge. He must restore order and a sense of optimism at the paper. He must reassert the Times' place as the world's greatest newspaper, as many media observers have long described it.

Observers hailed the decision to bring back Lelyveld.

"He is probably the most beloved editor in the modern history of the Times," said Newhouse's Kaplan.

This story was supplied by CBSMarketWatch. For further information see
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