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NYT EDITORS LOSE CONTROL OF STAFF, RESIGN.

It was a story played in newspapers from Redding to Rutland, from Chicago to Cheyenne. It even rattled into the prints in England and Australia.

The two top editors of the New York Times resigned on Thursday.

Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd had been mired in a controversy that started five weeks ago when a 27-year-old reporter -- who had been caught making up quotes and incidents and reporting them as fact -- quit the paper after his fabrications had been revealed.

But it wasn't the young reporter's deeds that caused Executive Editor Raines and Managing Editor Boyd to quit. It was their managerial styles that did them in.

In the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written since Raines and Boyd quit -- and the literally millions of words written on Jayson Blair, the young, far-too-creative reporter -- it appears that the two managers had allowed the command of the newsroom to slip through their fingers.

"People can feel it," the New York Observer quoted an anonymous Times source as saying earlier last week. Raines had "totally lost control."

Raines and Boyd went through all the motions that a management crisis requires: they had a frank talk with the troops, they commissioned and published an exhaustive investigation, blue-ribbon committees were formed, as were lesser committees.

But they continued to lose control.

Jack Shafer, editor-at-large of the web site Slate.com, summed up the last weeks of May by writing, "By Times' standards, the joint was in complete riot."

And though their boss -- Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the Times and chief executive of The New York Times Co. -- initially backed the two managers, ultimately it appears that Sulzberger demanded they resign.

In an analysis released by United Press International June 8, the wire service's chief White House correspondent, Nicholas Horrock (a former Timesman himself), quoted more anonymous Times' sources as saying that Sulzberger called two meetings of the top editorial and business executives of the paper. At the first, wrote Horrock, apparently Raines didn't understand the severity of the problem. But by the second, Horrock's story has Sulzberger saying, "You've got to tell us how to get out of this mess."

Last Tuesday, according to Horrock, before the next meeting was held, Sulzberger visited the Times' Washington bureau -- which Raines had once commanded -- and found even that outpost angry at Raines and Boyd. He apparently made arrangements with retired executive editor Joseph Lelyveld the next day to come back to the job on an interim basis while Sulzberger sought out a new executive editor.

As part of a publicly traded company, many in the media thought that this turmoil at the paper would somehow hurt the company's stock price or affect the standing of publisher and chief executive Sulzberger.

The Times is one of those formerly family-owned newspaper and media businesses that set up two classes of stock when they went public -- a set of super-voting shares that would be owned and controlled by family members and a second class of shares that had little or no voting control over the business. Sulzberger's ongoing reign as publisher and chief executive is relatively assured, though he does have cousins in the company who could conceivably become chief executive should he somehow lose the faith of his family.

The on-going drama at America's most respected newspaper has not particularly affected its parent company's stock price either: the stock closed last Friday at $46.35, which was 24 cents higher than the stock's average of the last 26 weeks. When compared to other members of the NewsInc. Index, NYT stock has faired no worse -- or no better -- than the others.

While many good newspapers have been edited by executives with dictatorial management styles -- apparently the Times itself is a leading example, especially in the 1950s and 1960s -- the undoing of Raines and Boyd did not come from the way they ran the paper, but the way they related to people. As Slate's Shafer pointed out, Raines had no political capital in the newsroom. As such, he had nothing to spend with the staff to help him weather the crisis. Raines and Boyd may have taken a bullet for the good of the paper, but they were standing up in the foxhole when they got hit.
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Publication:NewsInc
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 9, 2003
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