Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Kingdom & His Power

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Kingdom & His Power

Article excerpt

The 'aggressive' and 'opinionated' Howell Raines gets the nod to helm America's most influential paper

At 3:55 p.m. Monday, May 21, Howell Raines was in the 10th- floor office suite at 229 W. 43rd St. in Manhattan where for the last 81/2 years he has been editor of the editorial and opinion pages of The New York Times. He was waiting for his boss, Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., to escort him downstairs to the newsroom, where, five minutes later, Raines would be announced to the staff as the newly named executive editor of the Times, come September.

Raines, 58, picked up the phone. "I called my first city editor, Clark Stallworth, from the Birmingham [Ala.] Post-Herald," Raines says in an interview on the

second morning after his anointment. Stallworth is now retired. "I told him, 'I only have a minute, but I'm about to go downstairs and accept the executive editorship of The New York Times.' He was so thrilled. It meant a lot to me to call Clark, because I've had the benefit of great mentors and role models through my career. When I walked into his newsroom, I didn't know how to type. And when I left nine months later, I had the basic tools of reporting from a really great editor and teacher."

The Times, of course, has had other distinguished Southerners as leaders, dating back to the 19th century when Adolph S. Ochs, patriarch of the family that still owns the paper, became publisher of the Chattanooga Times at age 20. Two other Southerners, Clifton Daniel (North Carolina) and Turner Catledge (Mississippi), were synonymous with the Times in the mid-20th century.

Does it make any difference where Raines is from? Maybe not. But when he takes over from Joseph Lelyveld in September, he will be the first executive editor of the Times in more than a generation who has not attended a New York high school.

More than ever, the Times is less a New York broadsheet than America's most influential general-interest daily newspaper. "To have Howell Raines is very healthy," says Gay Talese, a Times reporter from 1955 to 1965 and the author of the definitive history of the paper, "The Kingdom and the Power," published in 1969. "He brings another regional sensibility to his national and international sense. It gives to the understanding of news something more than a New York twist."

Raines takes over the top editorial spot at a precarious moment in the newspaper business, with stagnant circulation, falling advertising sales, and rising costs. Though gracious in his more general ideas, the impeccably groomed and intensely focused Raines said in his interview with E&P that he would discuss neither specific plans he might have for the paper nor who his successor might be as editorial page editor.

He also would not talk about what was perceived as a contest for the executive editorship between Managing Editor Bill Keller, whom Lelyveld is said to have strongly preferred, and Raines, who developed a close working and personal relationship with the only man whose vote really counts, Publisher Sulzberger.

"He has had to be the voice of both the newspaper and Sulzberger," says Talese. "As editor of editorial and the Op-Ed page, he has shown that he has tremendous judgment on how to express the voice of The New York Times every day."

Alex S. Jones, a former Timesman now director of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University and, with Susan E. Tifft, co-author of "The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times," suggests that Sulzberger and Raines have become kindred spirits. "Remember that Sulzberger picked him out years ago to be editorial page editor and didn't know him well then," Jones tells E&P. "What he knew about him was that he was aggressive and opinionated -- just like Arthur. Now both have mellowed and grown into their jobs together.

"This moment is what Howell has lived his life for," says Jones, who considers Raines a friend and interviewed him for his history of the Times. …

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