Baquet to Future: L.A. Exile to Run Times D.C. Bureau

020507 article otr Baquet to Future: L.A. Exile to Run Times D.C. BureauOn Jan. 30, Dean Baquet, The New York Times’ new Washington bureau chief, addressed his new staff.

A couple of hours later, a former star reporter for the bureau, Judith Miller, took the stand across town in a federal courthouse to talk about her life with Mr. Baquet’s predecessors.

“I honestly have not paid any attention to it today,” Mr. Baquet told The Observer when asked about Ms. Miller’s testimony, “because from the minute I walked in the door, I’ve been meeting people. That feels to me like looking back, and I think I want to move forward from here.”

So, surely, does The New York Times. In her testimony in the government’s case against Vice President Dick Cheney’s aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Ms. Miller said that the former White House official informed her that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame, had worked for the C.I.A.

But it was elsewhere in her testimony that the ghost of Washington Bureaus Past started rattling its chains. Ms. Miller restated a previous claim that Times managing editor Jill Abramson turned down her offer to report on the Valerie Plame matter. (Ms. Abramson has publicly refuted this in the past).

And Ms. Miller also discussed a conversation with Mr. Baquet’s predecessor, Philip Taubman, where she said she told him she believed the administration had deliberately leaked the C.I.A. agent’s name to discredit her husband.

If much more of the testimony in the Scooter Libby trial rakes the bureau’s behavior in the early days of the war over the coals, the past may be a big part of Mr. Baquet’s future.

All signs are that Mr. Baquet and New York Times executive editor Bill Keller had no idea that the announcement of the new chief would coincide with Ms. Miller’s testimony. The two were at Penn Station bright and early to board a 7 a.m. Amtrak train bound for Washington, D.C.

A few hours later, they joined Mr. Taubman to announce to roughly 25 staffers that Mr. Baquet was taking over.

Mr. Taubman, for whom both Mr. Keller and Mr. Baquet have worked in the past, was named an associate editor and given the unlikely role of investigative reporter, entrusted with an unspecified national-security-related project.

Introducing Mr. Baquet, Mr. Taubman joked that the changing of the guard was really just a “distraction to things going on in the courtroom.”

“I didn’t have any idea that Judy would be on the stand today,” Mr. Taubman said later.

Mr. Keller, in a memo to the Times staff released after the bureau meeting, wrote that Mr. Taubman guided the D.C. bureau through “toxic storms.” The three-and-a-half-year period that Mr. Taubman ran the bureau was a “roller coaster ride,” according to Mr. Keller, and included, among many difficult moments, “the imprisonment of a reporter.”

Ever since Mr. Baquet’s Nov. 7 ouster as editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times, there has been speculation that he would return to his old newspaper.

“It became clearer and clearer to me that The New York Times was the place where I belonged now,” he said.

He said he spent time with his family and weighed his options.

“A couple of days ago,” he said, “I called Bill and said maybe we should have that conversation now. So I hopped on a plane.”

On Jan. 29, they met for lunch in Mr. Keller’s Upper West Side apartment. They spoke one on one for some time before Ms. Abramson, now a managing editor of The Times, finished teaching a class and was able to join them.

The following day, Washington reporters, scattered on various assignments, were summoned to the newsroom, according to a bureau staffer. Mr. Keller spoke first, followed by Mr. Taubman and, lastly, Mr. Baquet.

“The first thing I’m going to do is just listen and talk to people,” said Mr. Baquet, shortly after addressing the staff. “Get a sense of who’s doing what, and bounce ideas on people.”

A Times staffer said that Mr. Baquet should energize the bureau, with more of a hands-on style that differs sharply from his predecessor.

Mr. Taubman, according to one staffer, “expects his people to go out and perform, but will not be riding shotgun with a reporter the way Dean will be.”

“I think the difference is that Phil really enjoys the role of New York Times ambassador to Washington,” said one bureau staffer. “He’s a little more hands-off.”

“I don’t think they went out and said that they have to replace Phil,” said another bureau staffer, who believes the reason for the change was primarily to return Mr. Baquet to The Times rather than to render a verdict on Mr. Taubman’s stewardship.

“Phil has done an unbelievably fabulous job here through an incredibly stressful time, where we have frequently been at odds with the Bush administration,” said David Sanger, The Times’ chief White House correspondent.

Today, several Times staffers questioned whether Mr. Baquet will alter Mr. Taubman’s system of having three deputy editors in Washington: Doug Jehl, Dick Stevenson and Rebecca Corbett.

That was a radical departure. Previously, the management structure included a single Washington editor serving as the bureau chief’s No. 2. Over the years, Washington editors have included Ms. Abramson, under then Washington bureau chief (now International Herald Tribune executive editor) Michael Oreskes, and Andrew Rosenthal (currently The Times’ editorial-page editor), under the late R.W. “Johnny” Apple Jr.

By historical standards, Mr. Baquet now joins Ms. Abramson, Mr. Rosenthal, and deputy managing editor Jonathan Landman on the very short list of possible successors for Mr. Keller.

Regarding his plans for structuring the bureau, Mr. Baquet said: “I haven’t gotten that nitty-gritty into it.”

Office politics aside, there are big issues confronting the new bureau chief.

“I also think that this bureau, right now, is in the middle of two of the biggest stories of the generation: Iraq, and the most exciting Presidential election since 1968,” Mr. Baquet said.

On Jan. 31, Mr. Baquet said he plans to return to Los Angeles. He will travel again to New York in late February, and then meet with Mr. Taubman in D.C. a few days before his new job begins on March 5.

And as for Mr. Taubman?

Mr. Taubman, along with Baghdad bureau chief John F. Burns, had been rumored to become the newspaper’s next London bureau chief. But he said he’s looking forward to not being behind a desk for the near future.

“I’ve lived through history over the last three years, including the President’s request that we don’t publish the N.S.A. story,” said Mr. Taubman. “I feel that I’ve had a ringside seat to history.”

Mr. Sanger said that in addition to building a bureau with fresh talent, Mr. Taubman also had a “war to cover, and the war about the war to cover.”

That “war about the war” found its way into the Washington bureau over the past few years, in disputes over pre-war intelligence and controversies over publishing secret government programs.

“It is a changing of the guard that is extremely exciting,” said a Times staffer. “Judy represents sort of the old Washington bureau, and Dean represents the new.”

New York Mag Looks Downtown, Inward

Two weeks ago, New York magazine splashed the underwear-clad bodies of lithe boy art stars on its cover, sexing up a story on how “downtown lives on.”

At long last, editor Adam Moss may be ready to snatch off those grown-up eyeglasses and hop right into bed with the cool boys. The magazine, long headquartered at starchy 444 Madison Avenue—their logo is real big on the building!—is on the hunt for a new place that just feels right.

Space (home, hearth and financial appreciation!), as New York magazine knows, is everything. New York is a place for which residence is even more emotionally and culturally resonant than even the clothes that one wears!

So now each text handler and graph plotter must look inside himself. Is the staff made up of disheveled Park Slope grups? Horn-rimmed aspirational media gays? Blatino legal eagles? Who is New York magazine?

And where can it feel good?

“Our lease is up in September,” said a New York spokesperson. “So we are exploring a number of different options for a space, including negotiating with our current landlords.”

First on the list: 1 Hudson Square, in far west Soho, just up from the Holland Tunnel. (Note to staff: Is Jersey … back? Wait—was it here the first time? Check archives!)

The Soho building would put New York magazine much further downtown than Paper magazine. Further downtown than Interview! The forward-thinking haircuts for the staff will be expensive. And the whole affair much more Ben than Bruce Wasserstein.

Insert helpful chart here! 3.5 miles downtown from the old offices, with a driving time of 17 minutes! (Interns! Please calculate cab fare! Also—graph preferred driving patterns from Elaine’s, Michael’s and oh, what the hell, maybe MoMA? Do people still go there?)

“I think that if we move it will come down to dollars and cents,” said the spokesperson.

Well, it’s certainly much closer to Mr. Moss’ West Village love shack!

In 2000, Getty Images leased three full floors at 1 Hudson Square, giving them almost 225,000 square feet. After 9/11, the company subleased two floors—four and six—to Morgan Stanley, whose agreement ends in late 2007. At 1 Hudson, the fourth floor is 72,843 square feet, while the sixth measures 72,970.

Bradley P. Gerla, a senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis, is representing Getty Images in subleasing the space at 1 Hudson Square. He confirmed that New York has looked at the site, and said “it’s far from a done deal.”

A New York staffer said that currently, the magazine’s deciders and choosers and culture-sifters are overflowing at 444 Madison, where the magazine has been located for the past 10 years. The source said that the magazine has been looking for a new building with a large footprint, able to fit all the departments on one floor.

Besides 1 Hudson, the magazine has also eyed space at 770 Broadway, home of the magazine publisher VNU. That location is also downtown, around the corner from Cooper Square—home of downtown hometown legend The Village Voice. Ooo, quaint! Quaint and funky!

Presently, New York takes up all of floors 13 (editorial), 14 (art) and 15 (ad sales). That lease was for 50,000 square feet. In recent years, the magazine has expanded, taking up space on floors four (business) and six (online).

Ooh, the Internet! That’s very downtown, right?

—M.C.

Paging Lou Dobbs! NYT Goes Bangalore!

If Thomas Friedman ever writes a follow-up to The World Is Flat, the roaming New York Times columnist could, once again, trek to busy call centers in Bangalore, India.

There, while marveling at globalization’s many splendors, he might also take out an ad in his own paper.

On Feb. 12, the Times Company will begin an efficiency study of the newspaper’s excitingly named Customer Order Fulfillment (C.O.F.) department, according to New York Newspaper Guild sources.

“Our belief is that they’re planning to subcontract some office work—billing, production, advertising,” said Barry Lipton, president of the Guild. “Their probable decision is to outsource it, most likely to a company in India.”

A Times Company spokesperson confirmed that the company is considering outsourcing jobs in the C.O.F. department to India.

Unique to The Times, the C.O.F. department was created roughly a decade ago, and has served as a “one-stop shopping destination for advertisers,” according to a veteran Times staffer. Located on the sixth floor at West 43rd Street, representatives answer calls and take down relevant ad information—size, date and edition. Similar to other “order-to-cash” operations, billing and customer-service matters are handled there, too.

For the Times Company, outsourcing is not without precedent. Earlier this month, The Boston Globe, which is owned by the Times Company, announced that 55 jobs related to advertising and finance will be outsourced.

“This work has been done in Boston by Guild members for 125 years,” said Dan Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild.

“They’re looking at an April-to-May target of outsourcing to Bangalore,” said Mr. Totten, who is currently planning rallies and informational picket lines for the coming months.

Globe spokesman Al Larkin confirmed that positions will be outsourced to India. “We don’t have a signed agreement with any vendor,” said Mr. Larkin. The location will be determined after “knowing in the end what the final agreement will be,” he said.

“I would expect that the first positions, and I’m not sure how many that is, will likely be moving to India in the next few months,” said Mr. Larkin.

“We hadn’t heard of this being done in the newspaper business,” said John Morton, an industry analyst. “Newspapers have only rarely, and recently, begun outsourcing. But it’s been done mostly domestically.”

On Jan. 23, the Times Company announced the consolidation of classified-ad departments for 15 regional newspapers in Lakeland, Fla. The Times and Globe were not affected.

“It’s one thing when you call Microsoft and get someone with an Indian accent,” said Mr. Morton. Speaking of the presumably personal relationship that readers have with newspapers, he continued: “I think it would different thing if you were talking to someone in New Delhi about The Boston Globe.”

While outsourcing at the Times Company is a concern, according to Mr. Lipton, the Guild remains embroiled in negotiations with management over the employees’ health fund, which could run out of money in March 2008. To fill the coffers, management is proposing some drastic changes.

On Jan. 11, the Times Company management “unveiled a list of more than 50 proposed cutbacks in pay, benefits, job security and other contract provisions,” according to the Guild, in a memo to staff. Subsequently, two meetings were held for Times staffers on Jan. 22 in the Guild’s office, just a block from the Times headquarters. Roughly 85 staffers attended, according to a Times source.

More than 10 future dates are scheduled for negotiations between the Guild and management, according to Mr. Lipton.

“They’re trying to renegotiate the entire contract,” said Mr. Lipton. “I’m not just saying something to be dramatic. Their changes are going to rip the guts out of any protections that people now enjoy.”

—M.C.