Goodbye, Gray Lady: New York Times Legends Take Buyouts, Internal Tributes Follow in Suit

Barbara Strauch, Deputy Science Editor for the Times, introducing Science reporter/editor Nicholas Wade:

December 14, 2011
The Science of Retirement

Nicholas Wade, who joined The Times as an editorial writer in 1982, then in 1990 took a seven-year turn as Science Editor, before returning to writing about everything genetic, how humans became human, not to mention how we can live forever — or not — has decided to turn in his official staff hat and take a buyout.

We will not lose the brain under that hat, however, as Nicholas has agreed to write for us from time to time, and visit often. He has, as one of his last staff assignments, summed up his time at the paper, as only he can.

And Mr. Wade:

I joined the paper in 1982 as an editorial writer covering science and the environment. Writing editorials is quite hard because once you’ve given both sides’ positions you then have to come to a conclusion, or the editorial gets returned to you with a curt note saying “Yes, but where do we stand?”

Scientific issues are particularly difficult to develop an editorial position on. But I know I was right in my editorials on whether or not to build the Superconducting Super Collider, an enormous atom smasher then planned for Texas. I wrote one editorial for it, one straddling the fence, and one against it.

On days when the scientists were doing nothing much, I’d write editorials on defense. This was during the era of the Reagan military buildup, a target too large to miss. There was the M1 tank that broke down more often than one could fill it up with gas. And it only did half a mile per gallon anyway. There was the radar-guided anti-aircraft gun that zoomed in on whirring helicopter blades but would also blast out the fan in nearby latrines.

The editorial board is fun because lots of interesting people come through New York hoping to talk to The Times. But the news side is mostly too busy to see them, so they end up talking to a handful of editorial writers, who get themselves a wonderful free education.

After 10 years of Olympian thumb-sucking, I descended to the news floors, becoming science editor in 1990. There I had the rude realization that instead of seeing what the news was by looking in the newspaper, I had to decide what it was myself, that being the function of editors. Science Times in those days depended heavily on its distinctive and eye-catching graphics. Once the story carrying the art lede was decided upon, one could relax for the rest of the week, or at
least until the lede art proved unusable.

My predecessors had to submit the week’s art lede to Abe Rosenthal, who would scrutinize it for phallic symbols and sometimes demand that the art be redrawn without the offending elements. But Abe’s day had passed and his successor, Max Frankel, who had been my editor on the editorial board, allowed me free rein with the section.

An editor’s life is interesting, because you get to see what goes on in the rest of the paper, but it is also tiring. For lack of reporting and engagement with life outside the paper, one’s intellectual capital is not replenished and rapidly trends toward zero. After the ritual seven years I returned to writing. Science is a great beat because there is always something new. The problem is that most scientific discoveries turn out in the long run to be wrong or dead ends. You just have to spot the stories that won’t blow up in your face immediately.

Several years ago I calculated that I had written a million words for The Times. Enough daily journalism — I’m now going to switch to books.

***

Terry Schwadron, Editor for Information and Technology at the Times, on News Research Supervisor Barclay Walsh:

December 14, 2011 – Looking Up New Things

Barclay Walsh, the longtime News Research supervisor in the Washington Bureau is leaving The Times on Friday. As she says,
she’s got loads of projects to pursue outside of The Times, including more travel. Read more in this note from Terry Schwadron.

Over 24 years, Barclay’s encyclopedic recall of names and positions within the worlds of Washington are well-respected and sought after, particularly for the obscure fact or that one journal article from the pre-electronic era. One Washington editor said that Barclay was Google before there was Google. A specialty: knowledge of the paper trails left by individuals and government agencies that could provide perspective and essential documentation.

She has been particularly proud of stories in recent years that probe into the mists of intelligence gathering, lobbying activities and congressional relationships in the business world. Her credits span some of our most intricate investigative efforts from the bureau.

One of Barclay’s continuing efforts has been to identify and test new electronic sources of usable information, leading this year to adding a subscription to a research company tracking lobbyist activities. At the same time, she worked to maintain a physical library and managed book and periodical acquisitions.

In the last year, she handled hundreds of research requests from reporters in Washington and New York, often sharing work with fellow researchers in New York. It is a research staff that has diminished in number, but still handles about 6,000 research inquiries a year.

Her quick laugh and good humor, her dedicated research work ethic, cooperative spirit and her understanding of what is needed to make reporting better will be missed.

David writes: Please join us downstairs — on Barclay’s home turf — at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, when we will celebrate her 24 years at The Times and wish her well.

***

Alan Robertazzi, Deputy Director of News Design for the Times, introducing News Design Editor Donald Parsons:

December 13, 2011
A True Layout Champ Retires

It is with mixed emotions that we bid farewell to Donald Parsons. For almost 30 years and through countless production
systems, Donald has been a stalwart in the Art Department, working in news design, graphics and as an art director before settling into his current job as our expert in all things CCI. Read more in this note from Alan Robertazzi.

I once jokingly referred to Donald as the world’s foremost authority on CCI. Then I found out that he was actually conducting seminars for CCI users at their annual conference, showing them tricks that even some of them didn’t know.

He is truly irreplaceable, and we’ll miss him dearly.

Here’s his story, in his own words:

Donald Parsons:

I first came to The New York Times in 1981 and did page layouts on what was then called the makeup desk. I was assistant to the editor for the national edition at the time I left after six and a half years (the first of two breaks). After working a year at a ski lodge in Taos, New Mexico, I returned — this time for a four-year stint as a graphics editor. Then it was back to New Mexico for three years at the Albuquerque Journal before my current assignment here in news design. Before coming to New York, I worked for the company in Florida for five years at The Ledger in Lakeland and at The Gainesville Sun.

I will miss working with such a talented and professional group of people in News Design and Pagination and all of my other colleagues in the newsroom. The first thing I have planned is a trip to Florida in April for opening day of the Miami Marlins new stadium. I’m going to keep busy with a number of projects I have planned inside and outside my house in the Poconos.

The newsroom is invited to toast Donald at 4:45 p.m. Friday at his desk on the third floor near the coffee cart.

fkamer@observer.com | @weareyourfek