Mr. Sifton, the culture editor, will replace Frank Bruni. Bill Keller, the executive editor, called the decision both eccentric and obvious. Mr. Sifton will take over in October.
A source tells us that Mr. Sifton won the job after Times editors had a short list of two or three names internally to choose from, and one from the outside. The outsider was Brett Anderson of the Times-Picayune.
As we wrote this week, Mr. Sifton steps into a job that Ruth Reichl, Biff Grimes and Mr. Keller himself told us that, in some ways, doesn’t quite have the power it used to. He’ll have to negotiate a foodie-obsessed atmosphere, and a new media environment that will end The Times‘ quaint idea of anonymity for its restaurant critic (it’s not so hard to find an image of Mr. Sifton). But, interestingly, The Times has removed Mr. Sifton’s image from its Talk to the Newsroom series.
Mr. Sifton, who edited the Dining section in the past and who also wrote a noir-inflected dining column for the New York Press, has written about food recently for The Times. In the Sunday Magazine, he spoke about cooking meatloaf for Nora Ephron at a potluck. (“This is what happens if you hang around New York long enough, writing about food and editing about movies. You end up at ground zero. The invitation was to a potluck. Guests were meant to bring food inspired by Ephron’s career or by the woman herself. It was essentially high-stakes food charades. My draw was meatloaf. Ruh-roh.”)
But it also starts a whole new mystery at The Times. Who is the next person to run the culture pages? Mr. Keller said (in the memo found below) that the selection won’t take a long time. We’ll be watching.
Here is the memo:
To the Staff:
In the weeks since the announcement that Frank Bruni would be hanging up his napkin, we’ve received numerous applications for the job of NYT restaurant critic. We narrowed the list, and then narrowed it some more. We had some really impressive candidates, writers who know their food and have interesting things to say about the way we eat.
Then we threw out the list and drafted Sam Sifton.
The choice is both obvious and eccentric.
It is obvious because, as a brilliant editor of the Dining section, as an occasional essayist on food for our magazine, and as a writer of discernment and wit and erudition, he is the best candidate any of us can think of. This is a marquee job for The Times, and our next critic will have the unenviable job of following Frank Bruni. It is an obvious choice, too, because the prospect of reading Sam on a regular basis brings big smiles to our faces. Joe Lelyveld used to ask of any prospective appointment or promotion, “Where’s the lift?” On this one, the question pretty much answers itself.
It is eccentric because we are stealing one of our finest editors from one of our most important departments. This is certain to be a cause of anguish and anxiety in Culture, where Sam has run things with great skill, imagination, energy and good humor. Everyone understands that Sam the Culture Editor will be as hard an act to follow as Frank the Resaurant Critic. We’ve set ourselves the task of finding a new Culture Editor who will give us a lift, too. And we expect the anguish and anxiety to be short-lived.
For the record, it is our expectation that this will not be the end of Sam’s career as an editor/manager/entrepreneur/mentor. He has run two departments exceptionally well, and nobody would be surprised to see him running something in the future. For now, though, his running will be on a treadmill at the gym.
After some overdue vacation and a few weeks of warmup eating, Sam will take over the critic’s chair in October.