[em]Times[/em] Dissolves Washington Editor Position

Today, New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Phil Taubman announced replacements for departed Washington editor Kate Phillips, who was forced out of the bureau in December. Rather than filling the position, which was the bureau’s No. 2 spot, the paper has split it into three separate posts.

Taubman’s memo follows:

I’m pleased to announce ­or knowing the reporting standards you set for yourselves, to confirm ­ the appointment of three deputy bureau chiefs: Rebecca Corbett for enterprise, Doug Jehl for national security coverage and Dick Stevenson for domestic and economic affairs and politics.

They need little introduction.

Rebecca is an exceptionally talented editor, great at unconventional thinking, working with reporters, refining complex stories and developing cooperative relationships with colleagues here and in New York. Those who have worked with her know that, and several of you have told me that you think Rebecca is the best editor you’ve ever worked with. More of you will have the chance to discover that in the months ahead. The Baltimore Sun won two Pulitzer Prizes for reporting projects she directed. In recent months, she has worked closely with Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau on their groundbreaking coverage of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

Doug has set the standard for intelligence coverage in Washington since taking over the beat two years ago. I know that not only as one of his editors and readers, but because his competitors at The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations have told me so. With his background as a White House correspondent and Cairo bureau chief, and stints at the Pentagon, Doug is fully conversant with the full array of national security issues. He has
been a prolific generator of ideas across that arena, has a knack for identifying and framing stories and has worked in productive partnerships with many reporters in the bureau.

Dick is a polymath on domestic, economic and political affairs. And he’s no slouch on other issues. The breadth and depth of Dick’s knowledge, combined with his precise reporting and lucid writing, have long given his stories a sense of authority and won him the respect of the Washington press corps. He can now put his keen intellect and package of journalism skills, and his gift for collaboration, to work across the bureau and the paper. Before moving over to the White House, Dick was the chief economic correspondent and earlier in his career he was a correspondent in London and Los Angeles. Dick, among his other duties, will direct coverage of the mid-term elections this year.

Working in concert with me and the bureau’s band of accomplished editors, Rebecca, Doug and Dick will give the Washington report a lift and a new look.

The objectives of the management realignment are simple to describe but will require the collective effort of the bureau to achieve. We want to sustain the strong daily coverage and world-class exclusives that the bureau has long provided while increasing the number of high-impact enterprise/investigative stories and illuminating explanatory pieces. We aim to bear down on critical domestic and national security issues with aggressive, searching reporting that breaks news and explores government policies and actions that have escaped close scrutiny. And we hope to expand our coverage of the culture, mores and personalities of Washington.

The appointments come with an expectation by Bill, Jill, John and me that the bureau will raise its game to a new level and with a commitment by the masthead to provide the bureau with additional resources to help make that happen. There will soon be good news to report on that front. The bureau has lost a lot of reporting power
through retirements and departures, and we are picking our own pocket by shifting Doug and Dick to editing jobs. To enhance the bureau’s work, Susan Chira, Suzanne Daley, Matt Purdy and I have agreed to marshal the resources of our departments in a more coordinated way and to make the bureau the pivot point for coverage of cross-departmental issues like Federal health care programs and post 9/11 national security policies. Matt will visit the bureau frequently to ensure that we are all on the same page on enterprise and investigative projects and I plan to get together with Matt, Susan and Suzanne in New York at least once a month. We will confer as a group by phone every week.

Bill and Jill will be here on Tuesday to discuss all this at lunch. I’m sure you will have questions, suggestions and observations about the changes. Feel free to raise them with me and other editors.

This week will be a transition period, as Dick and Doug disengage from reporting and take up their new responsibilities. Everyone should be in place by next Monday, just in time for the State of the Union and the return of Congress.

Phil