'The New York Times' Announces Surprise Change Of Management

May 14, 2014
Originally published on May 14, 2014 4:59 pm

The New York Times has announced that Dean Baquet, the newspaper's managing editor, will replace Jill Abramson as the executive editor. Both Abramson and Baquet were named to their current jobs in 2011. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik comments on the move.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. A surprise announcement from The New York Times today: Jill Abramson, the first woman to run the paper as executive editor, has been replaced by managing editor Dean Baquet. He'll become the Times' first African-American executive editor. The paper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., told Times staffers it was due to an issue with management in the newsroom. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now to talk about this. And, David, first, start with a bit about Jill Abramson and the Times during her tenure as executive editor.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Sure. She joined the Times in 1997. She's a very accomplished investigative and political reporter. And she really helped them pursue some very serious reporting out of Washington over the years. After the aftermath of the Jason Blair scandal, Bill Keller was elevated to be executive editor of the paper and she became his chief deputy. And she helped to really lead the paper for more than a decade and rose to the top job about three years ago. You know, it was a hallmark in which they did a lot of good work. She was seen as a steady journalistic presence - brusque in the newsroom. She didn't hear a ton of, shall we say, friends but she did earn a lot of fans for her tough-minded approach. And, obviously, a lot of women journalists really looked to her as somebody who was really showing that the very top echelons of journalism women could lead as well as perform.

BLOCK: And the paper earned also a bunch of Pulitzers under her tenure. What does her abrupt ouster from the Times mean?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it was pretty brutal. I mean, you know, you think of people leaving the Times. Bill Keller took essentially a victory lap, was able to set his own date of departure after what was a strong tenure there. Howell Raines, you know, was unceremoniously dumped during the Jason Blair episode and scandal of plagiarism and fabrications. And you see those as the two extremes. In this instance, there's no scandal that's been reported. Arthur Sulzberger, I'm told, has told senior news executives and other executives they are not allowed to talk about this even with their colleagues the reason for this, and so it remains obscure. I can point to a few things. You know, she had been seen as somebody who had conflicted with the new CEO that Sulzberger had appointed - came from the BBC - Mark Thompson over two things. One was his push for more video, which the ads on the, you know, online videos can generate a lot more revenue than simply regular banner ads and the like. She thought that might be expensive and a waste of time. And also he was annoyed that she had sent Matthew Purdy, the investigations editor, to Britain to look into his role into whether or not the BBC had hidden a child abuse scandal from decades ago. And so there was that tension there but that's not a reason to push somebody out right now.

BLOCK: I'm looking at the New York Times masthead on their website. Her name is gone. Dean Baquet's is up now as executive editor. What should we expect from him?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, he's been a champion also of investigative reporting, political reporting. He likes the game, he likes a good story, likes the front page. Interestingly, you know, Sulzberger cited his interest in digital innovations and storytelling online. That's not something he's been known for. You know, a report came out from Sulzberger's son just a couple of weeks ago that said the Times needed to be more aggressive about pursuing innovation. You know, while Abramson herself was not known for innovating, she was very open to it. And the Times under her tenure really performed quite well. So, you know, you have in Baquet a champion of journalism, not necessarily a digital journalism warrior.

BLOCK: OK. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.