In a strange way, Sept. 11–which occurred six days after Howell Raines succeeded Joseph Lelyveld as executive editor of The New York Times –delayed the Howell Raines era. This is not to say that Mr. Raines didn’t make critical decisions over the past five months–quite the contrary–but that it’s only been recently, as world events have calmed, that Times readers and staffers have begun to see what kind of newspaper the new editor intends to publish.
The changes are coming, some little, some large. In Mr. Raines’ Times, for example, there will be no more front-page headlines promising “A Special Report”–according to a Times source, Mr. Raines believes that particular “bug,” as it’s called, frightens readers away. On the lighter side, The Times ‘ “Watching Movies With … ” series, where a reporter sits down to watch movies with a cinema celebrity (Harvey Weinstein, Denzel Washington), is also kaput, a source said, since Mr. Raines thinks the series isn’t edgy or gossipy enough.
Meanwhile, he is also changing the culture inside the paper, repositioning reporters and realigning the career paths of young stars and veterans alike. As for the new Raines-era work ethic, worry is rampant among staffers that Mr. Raines favors the lonely bachelor/bachelorette correspondent–who can be dispatched and ridden roughshod over–over family-bound staffers.
Mr. Raines’ inner circle does not buy such newsroom worries or generalizations. But it’s clear that change is afoot. According to Gerald Boyd, The Times ‘ managing editor, Mr. Raines’ mantra is: “Our biggest foe is complacency!”
On the page, Mr. Raines is offering a paper that–in addition to its substantial helpings of international and national coverage–has lately shown a wider eye for pop culture and sensibility pieces. This contention has been fueled by a spate of unusual front-page pieces, including Page 1 pieces on Botox injections, Gennifer Flowers, Mariah Carey and Marshall Faulk.
There are explanations for all these pieces, of course: Botox awaits F.D.A. approval; Ms. Flowers is a national figure, albeit an infamous one; Ms. Carey got a record buyout from her recording company; Mr. Faulk was in the Super Bowl. But inside and outside the paper, these stories have been interpreted as signs of a new order, and a new set of editorial priorities.
“Howell has very strong ideas about what he wants the paper to be,” said one high-level source. “Any time there’s a transition, there is going to be a lot of anxiety and change.”
Even before Mr. Raines, who declined to be interviewed for this story, was named executive editor in May 2001, there was concern about how the former Washington bureau chief and editorial-page editor would lead the paper. In the past, Mr. Raines had been accused of favoring a star system of reporters–one of The Times ‘ brightest lights, Maureen Dowd, rose to prominence during his tenure in Washington–and favoring national coverage over world events.
Whether or not such accusations were accurate, Mr. Raines appeared to take those concerns under consideration after he was named to succeed Mr. Lelyveld. He spent four months after he was announced as executive editor–but before taking over–meeting with reporters and editors, sitting on the copy desk and getting to know a newsroom he hadn’t been a part of for eight years.
Presumably, Mr. Raines had some plans in mind when he assumed control of the paper on Sept. 5. But only now has he gotten an opportunity to execute them.
As for the changes on A1, Mr. Boyd said that the criteria for choosing front-page stories hadn’t changed under Mr. Raines. “I don’t think anyone would accuse us of going soft,” he said. As an example, Mr. Boyd said the Botox story “was an attempt to look at both the news and sociological sides” of the issue.
New editorial priorities are stoking speculation of editorial personnel changes in nearly every section of The Times . Mr. Raines is said to be asking for changes everywhere, but so far, the first big shakeup to take place has been on the national desk, which includes 12 bureaus around the country. On orders from Mr. Raines, top editors at The Times have told six national correspondents–which are considered plum positions at The Times –in five bureaus that they will have to relocate to a new job at The Times , in either New York or the bureau in Washington, D.C.
The correspondents to get the news are: Seattle bureau chief Sam Howe Verhovek, San Francisco bureau chief Evelyn Nieves, Los Angeles correspondent Jim Sterngold, Denver bureau chief Michael Janofsky, Atlanta bureau chief Kevin Sack, as well as Atlanta correspondent David Firestone.
Mr. Boyd and associate managing editor Bill Schmidt went to Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 7, to meet with Mr. Sterngold, Ms. Nieves and Mr. Verhovek. Sources at the national desk said that the two editors discussed with the three correspondents their future with the paper, and the understanding was that they all will have to move from their current posts, most likely to either Washington or New York.
To Off the Record, Mr. Boyd confirmed that Mr. Firestone was being “promoted” to a job in Washington and denied that all three West Coast correspondents were being moved out of their current jobs, but he declined to answer questions about individual correspondents, including Messrs. Sack and Janofsky.
Some at The Times questioned the handling of the news. Even before Mr. Boyd and Mr. Schmidt went to L.A., all of the correspondents had figured out they were going to be asked to move, Times sources said. “Stalin had more finesse than this,” said one national staffer.
And though no one is being fired, a few national correspondents may be forced to leave because of complicated family situations that prevent them from moving to a new city on short notice. Mr. Sack has already told colleagues that he is quitting The Times because he has joint custody of his daughter, which prevents him from leaving Atlanta. Mr. Sterngold said that his own two children will affect his decision–he shares custody of them with an ex-wife in Los Angeles–but that nothing was final as yet. “It’s a subject I’ll turn over carefully,” he said.
On the national desk, staffers interpreted Mr. Raines’ changes as being deliberately targeted at those reporters who have families.
“Basically,” said one national staffer, “if you have a family, you’re fucked.”
Though neither Mr. Raines nor his deputies are telling their staff that reporters with families are specifically being targeted in the moves, Times sources said, the buzzwords Mr. Raines has been using around the Times offices are “faster metabolism” and “unencumbered.”
Mr. Boyd said that when he speaks to reporters about their future at The Times , it is always prudent to take into account personal family constraints. “One of the reasons we’re talking to people,” he said in reference to the national correspondents, “is because of the family situation. If we’re going to make these offers [as a foreign or national correspondent] down the road, you have to discuss that now. You can’t wait to have a conversation.”
Mr. Boyd also said that Mr. Raines wants to make it clear that traveling a lot is a major part of being a national correspondent.
“If you have a national assignment and your job is to cover a region, then [Mr. Raines] expects you to get about in that region,” he said. “In recent years, some correspondents have traveled and others have not traveled. It’s just making it clear how we see the job.”
There are some Times veterans who believe the changes are overdue. “Howell’s view is that the old school got soft in terms of national coverage,” one Times source said. “There were too many thumbsucker trend stories and not enough stories that took you to different places with real things happening.” The staffer added that though the correspondents’ personal situations were unfortunate, the newspaper had to make moves. “I don’t see how the paper can function according to the custody battles of its reporters,” the source said.
However, there has been no word on who will take the correspondents’ places when they are rotated out.
Unhappy staff on the national desk believe that Mr. Raines will put his favorites in the openings. “One of the reasons he was shaking up national,” said a staffer, “was that he wanted to reward the reporters he sent to Afghanistan.” Two names being considered for West Coast assignments are reporters David Rohde and Amy Waldman, who both reported on the war in Afghanistan, sources said.
A similar shakeup is also expected on the foreign desks. In recent weeks, acting editor Roger Cohen went to Paris to meet with some of The Times ‘ correspondents in Europe to discuss the future. While in Paris, Mr. Cohen told Paris bureau chief Suzanne Daley that she was going to be rotated back to New York, according to sources at The Times .
Elsewhere, another trouble spot for Mr. Raines is the culture department, which is headed up by culture editor John Darnton. In December, John Rockwell, the editor of the Arts & Leisure section, which appears on Sundays, announced he would be resigning because he disagrees with Mr. Raines’ vision for more popular culture in The Times ‘ cultural coverage. No replacement for him has been found.
What Mr. Raines wants out of his cultural sections is something more akin to what Arthur Gelb produced while Abe Rosenthal ruled The Times . A staffer in the culture department put it this way: “Especially with Arts & Leisure, we need less Peking Opera and more Britney Spears.”
Rick Lyman, who covers Hollywood for The Times , recently requested a meeting with Mr. Raines to talk about what he should be doing. Mr. Raines repeated the mantra of more news and also told him to quit doing his series “Watching Movies With …. ” So far, Mr. Lyman has filed 18 typically 4,000-word accounts of watching a movie with Hollywood bigs like Brian Grazer and Sissy Spacek. According to sources at The Times , Mr. Raines doesn’t like the series because they are too ingratiating toward their subjects, and what he wants is more news from such pieces.
But the first step for the culture department is choosing a replacement for Mr. Rockwell. And one of the names being floated within The Times for the job is Kate Betts, the former editor of Harper’s Bazaar , who in recent months has been writing for Sunday Styles. Ms. Betts did not return a call for comment.
At 6:40 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12, executives of The Wall Street Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones, awoke to phone calls offering one of the most promising pieces of news regarding the fate of kidnapped reporter Daniel Pearl. The Journal ‘s reporters in Karachi, Pakistan, informed the executives that Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh–the man believed by Pakistani authorities to be the mastermind behind Mr. Pearl’s abduction–had been captured.
As the morning wore on, there was even more promising news. According to the Associated Press, Mr. Saeed said, “He’s alive. He’s O.K.”
Still, Journal staffers were cautious. Late on the morning of Feb. 12, Steve Goldstein, a vice president with Dow Jones, said only: “We continue to remain hopeful.”
Indeed, Journal staffers hope that Mr. Saeed’s arrest marks a breakthrough in the case, which, in the last week, saw promises of a quick conclusion emerge and dissolve and emerge again. The paper and Mr. Pearl’s family had been disappointed before: On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Pakistani officials had expressed confidence both that Mr. Pearl was alive and that they were close to finding him, as they arrested three people in connection with the case. There was also a report that Mr. Pearl would be freed on Feb. 6.
Of course, the delivery never came. Mr. Saeed had merely bought himself time for an escape, leaving many to question the bold promises of Pakistani authorities. When asked if a level of frustration had built up because of this, Mr. Goldstein said the paper had full confidence in both the governments of the United States and Pakistan, and that these events were “part of the ebbs and flows in this situation.”
Perhaps as an expression of the situation’s strangeness, last week Harper’s even found itself involved with the case. As it turned out, the magazine had published excerpts from Mr. Saeed’s 1994 diary of being a kidnapper in its January issue, still on newsstands on Jan. 23, the day Mr. Pearl went missing. This fact went unnoticed until the morning of Feb. 7, when senior editor Clara Jeffery sat reading the wires about the prime suspect. Not recognizing the name, but rather the circumstances of his life, she checked the issue.
“I just looked at it,” Ms. Jeffery said, “and said, ‘Oh my God, it’s the same guy.’”
“The thing that’s interesting,” Ms. Jeffery said, “is that the diary paints this amusing portrait of a guy who’s pretty inept at kidnappings. To think he’s actually the person is a little chilling.”
Soon after, John R. MacArthur, the magazine’s publisher, faxed the diary to WSJ managing editor Paul Steiger. In turn, Mr. Steiger faxed back a reply that echoed Ms. Jeffery’s reaction: “Thank you very much for the diary excerpt. It is absolutely chilling.”
The next afternoon, the staff of the paper received an e-mail from Mr. Steiger and Dow Jones C.E.O. Peter Kann.
“While we have not issued any public statements in the last few days on the kidnapping of Danny Pearl,” they wrote, “we wanted to let you know that we, and literally scores of colleagues and others, continue to work around the world around the clock to secure Danny’s safe and speedy release … We have not heard from the people who have Danny for a little over a week, but we remain very confident that Danny is alive, and hope that he will be released soon, so that he can be with his courageous wife, and continue the work that has made us so very proud of him.”
But there would be no significant news until Feb. 12. And sources seem pleased, if guarded, about the development.
“People were happy,” said one WSJ source. “It seems like a big break. O.K., he’s not free, but it certainly helps.”
Another WSJ source put it this way: “It’s better than bad news.”
Monday’s departure of Michael Kinsley as editor of Slate did more than rattle the chin-scratching, Microsoft-funded Web site. It opened the door for the Redmond, Wash.-based forum of political and social punditry to be based out of … New York.
One of the two candidates for Mr. Kinsley’s job, Slate political editor Jacob Weisberg, lives in Tribeca. And if he gets the job, he’d like to remain here.
“My preference is to edit the magazine from New York,” Mr. Weisberg said.
There’s also the possibility that Slate could slide to Washington D.C. That’s the base of the other candidate for Mr. Kinsley’s job, Jack Shafer.
“It makes much more sense for me to be here,” Mr. Shafer said. “The center of Slate’s editorial is in New York and Washington.”
For all the hullabaloo about Mr. Kinsley packing up and shuttling off to the suburbs of Seattle in 1995–a move seen as a snub to the East Coast media elite, a sign of the power redistribution in the dot-com era that was celebrated by the scary Newsweek cover of Mr. Kinsley in a yellow rain slicker with the line “Swimming to Seattle: Everybody Else Is Moving There. Should You?”–Slate really is an East Coast kid at heart. Mr. Shafer, who initially followed Mr. Kinsley to Seattle in 1996 before returning to D.C. in February 2000, said that Mr. Kinsley had always planned on moving back East, had gone on apartment searches from time to time and even had rented a place a few years back in the West End of Washington.
And while it maintained its Redmond hive–there are 21 people there–Slate had also beefed up its New York and D.C. bureaus. Mr. Shafer works in an office of eight, while Mr. Weisberg is one of a trio of Slate staffers in New York. Moving the base of operations to either city would not pose the same kind of logistical roadblocks one might get with a print publication. As expected, the magazine is savvy about electronic filing, and in all likelihood could be headquartered anywhere.
But before any of that happens, Mr. Weisberg and Mr. Shafer will have themselves a little competition for Mr. Kinsley’s chair. Mr. Shafer will edit the magazine for the first six weeks, Mr. Weisberg the six after that. And while Mr. Weisberg might spend the bulk of his time during his test-period out West, don’t expect him to start checking Seattle realty brochures if given the job.
“The advantage of Slate,” Mr. Weisberg said, “is flexibility. We’ve worked with a staff that’s on two coasts and three cities. We’ve already figured out how to do it and make it work.”
Another thing that you won’t find in Howell Raines’ New York Times is Joe Lelyveld’s reporting from The Hague when Slobodan Milosevic goes on trial for crimes against humanity during his reign as Yugoslav leader. Mr. Lelyveld, who preceded Mr. Raines as executive editor, said he wanted to go back to writing after he stepped down from The Times last September, and has already written a cover story for The New York Times Magazine about what turns a person into a suicide bomber.
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker , said of his newest writer, “Thinking that Joe Lelyveld can write well-reported pieces for The New Yorker is the no-brainer of all-time.”
Back at The Times , Magazine editor Adam Moss said of the defection: “I love Joe’s work and wish he was covering [the Milosevic trial] for us, but after 30-some years at The Times , he likes the idea of writing for a range of publications.” Mr. Moss added, “When you talk to him, will you give him my number? He’s welcome home any time.”
Mr. Lelyveld was in The Hague, where Mr. Milosevic’s trial started on Feb. 12, and did not respond to an
e-mail for comment.
We sure hope those Presidential campaigns were worth it!
Recently, Steve Forbes, president and editor in chief of Forbes , and his three brothers announced a suspension of the matching contributions by the company to the 401(k) plan while cutting the pay of senior managers.
“It’s temporary,” explained a Forbes spokesperson. “They’re just trying to hold back costs. They wanted a way to push back expenses, and this was one of the alternatives.”