Black and Blue at the Times

By Cose, Ellis | Newsweek, February 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

Black and Blue at the Times


Cose, Ellis, Newsweek


Byline: Ellis Cose

A top editor's bruising experience.

There is no such thing as a happy or rationally run newsroom. Anyone who has worked in journalism pretty much assumes that. But could America's greatest newspaper really be led by such vicious, untrustworthy people? That's one of many questions one is left with upon reading Gerald Boyd's angry yet thoughtful post-humous memoir detailing his rise through the hierarchy of The New York Times.

In September 2001, Boyd became the Times's managing editor--the first African-American to have soared to such heights. And then along came a plagiarist named Jayson Blair, whose sins set in motion a series of events that, in summer 2003, left Boyd jobless and disgraced. Three years later, Boyd died of cancer at the age of 56, never having recovered from his very public humiliation. My Times in Black and White, published by Lawrence Hill Books, is Boyd's chance to set the record straight.

Boyd and I were not buddies, but he had been to my home and I to his, and we occasionally shared meals and conversation. I also know many of the players he profiles--and occasionally savages--in his book. Still, My Times was a revelation.

I knew that Boyd's journey had sometimes been difficult and lonely. But I was nonetheless struck by just how alone he often felt--and how vulnerable he was to the slights and suspicions he thought too frequently came his way. "I kept the Real Gerald M. Boyd tucked safely out of sight while the newspaperman navigated the corridors of power," he writes. "[This] was the only way I thought I could function, survive and succeed."

Boyd was a poor boy from St. Louis who lost his mother as a toddler, was abandoned by his father, and was raised by his paternal grandmother. Thanks to an antipoverty program called Upward Bound and a scholarship to the University of Missouri, Boyd escaped the poverty of his childhood and began his journalistic ascent. He became a star at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was later seduced by the Times, where he became a White House correspondent and held a series of management jobs, culminating with the managing editorship.

Boyd was a symbol--of either racial progress or affirmative action run amok, depending on how one viewed his achievement. Boyd understood that. …

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