A Slew of Non-Demotions at The New York Times

otr jpg A Slew of Non Demotions at The New York TimesIs returning to a reporting assignment at The New York Times the new “spending time with the family”?

 In the past week, we’ve learned that the paper’s Styles editor, national editor and assistant managing editor were all getting new jobs at the paper. Two of those three editors were moving into reporting positions—reversing the career track normally taken at big news organizations. This comes only a few months after the paper’s culture editor became the paper’s restaurant critic, yet another writing job. So what’s the big idea? Times executive editor Bill Keller has gone to great lengths to argue that these changes do not indicate that his editors are being banished to Siberia.

In the memo announcing that Suzanne Daley would be leaving her job of heading up the paper’s national coverage to take on a “special assignment” reporting on Europe, he said, “I have no doubt she will return to important editing roles. She is too good at it to be away for long.” When he announced Mr. Sifton as the new food writer, he said, “For the record, it is our expectation that this will not be the end of Sam’s career as an editor/manager/entrepreneur/mentor.” And this week when he announced that Trip Gabriel would be leaving as Styles editor to write education enterprise pieces, he said, “We unleash Trip into reporting with the understanding that this is not a departure from editing, but a detour.”

(Also: When Bill Keller announced that Rick Berke, the paper’s assistant managing editor, would leave the masthead to take over the national desk, he said, “And I expect we haven’t seen the last of him on the masthead.” And! And! When Jon Landman left the digital editing role at The Times to replace Mr. Sifton as culture editor, he said, “Jon will not be extracting himself from the Web, not by a long shot.”)

O.K., Bill, we get the point!

Several Times sources said the flurry of changes reflects the fact that a hiring freeze and a lame job market prevented any real movement at the paper. They see the changes as a wake-up call for these individuals, and for the paper.

Mr. Keller said as much, too. “Journalists are disposed to a kind of A.D.D., a restless curiosity,” he said in an email to Off the Record. “While there are, of course, writers who happily specialize for most of a career, one great lure of this work is that you can move from subject to subject, from reporting to editing and back again. So, think of it as pushing the ‘refresh’ button.”

jkoblin@observer.com