Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Raines Falls, but Other Editors Face Own Issues

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Raines Falls, but Other Editors Face Own Issues

Article excerpt

Management style, as much as ethical errors, led to 'cataclysmic' shake-up at 'The New York Times'

Just as the initial Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg revelations forced many newsroom leaders to review their own ethics policies and institute new safeguards, the departure of The New York Times' two top editors, based mostly on managerial mistakes, will likely spark structural changes while reminding executives to make sure all areas of their operation are solid -- or risk their own downfall. "Editors probably need to have their finger on the pulse of the newsroom more," said Robert Leger, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and editorial page editor at the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. "They need to hear from all middle managers and take their advice." Said Ellen Soeteber, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "It is a good reminder that we all need a large dose of humility."

In the end, executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd had to leave The New York Times in order to allow the newspaper to repair its shattered image, according to editors and other journalistic observers who spoke with E&P late last week. But their departures had less to do with the Blair and Bragg debacles than with fixing a newsroom that many contend had lost morale since Raines and Boyd took over.

While the ethical misdeeds of Blair initially drew the attention, it was the ongoing criticism of the paper's management -- particularly Raines' failure to respond to warnings about Blair and complaints about the editor's autocratic manner -- that eventually led to his and Boyd's departure.

"These guys did not go down because of the Jayson Blair affair, they went down because the Jayson Blair affair exposed a lot of other things," said Douglas C. Clifton, editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, who called their exits "unprecedented" and "a cataclysmic event." Blair, he said, was "just the pointer to other issues."

Kenneth Bunting, executive editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, agreed. "There were a number of managerial missteps and some smart people with very serious blinders on," he said. "Their staff had lost confidence, and it was probably the best thing for that reason. In the end, you need the confidence of your staff." Richard Reeves, Universal Press Syndicate columnist and former Times reporter, said, "Maybe this will stop the bloodletting."

Some editors said the appointing of a committee to review the ethical problems, expected to reveal its findings next month, was too little too late. …

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