Bill Keller Resigns as New York Times Editor

Jill Abramson is the paper's first female editor

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Bill Keller is stepping down from his post as executive editor of The New York Times to pursue a full-time writing position. Replacing him will be Jill Abramson, former investigative journalist and Times bureau chief, who will become the first woman to run the paper. A native New Yorker, Abramson likened her takeover to "ascending to Valhalla." Replacing Abramson at managing editor is the paper's Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet. John M. Geddes is staying on as managing editor for news operations. This is the first major shake-up of senior editorial management at the Grey Lady in eight years.

Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the paper's publisher said he accepted Keller's resignation with "mixed emotions."

“He’s been my partner for the last eight years,” Mr. Sulzberger said in an interview, adding that the decision to leave was entirely Mr. Keller’s. “He’s been an excellent partner. And we’ve grown together. If that’s where his heart is and his head is, then you have to embrace that.”

While it's something of a marvel that word of the editorial change-up didn't leak out before The Times's own announcement, it had been no secret that Keller was growing weary of his management job and that Abramson would replacement when he stepped down. Top editors of The New York Times typically remain in their positions until they are age 65 and Keller turned 62 in January. "It's not a surprise. This has been in the cards for some time," said one newsroom source. "Keller has been on top eight years. He wants to write more. It's Jill's turn."
Keller recently spoke with Esquire's Scott Raab and expressed some of these concerns:

BK: There's a lot of stuff they don't teach you in the mythical editors' school. They don't teach you that you're going to have to spend a lot of your life in crisis management. It's been a fair amount of that — every kind of crisis you can imagine, starting with a crisis of morale and credibility that I inherited, then going through one motherfucker of a recession.

SR: Did the executive editor of The New York Times say "motherfucker" just now?

BK: It'll make my boss cringe, but it was pretty brutal, more brutal in the news business than in the average business. Plus, there's a sort of existential question about the whole business model of news brought on by the digital revolution, and in tandem with that there's the question of how you adapt a newsroom of people who grew up doing print to the audience and opportunities of the Web. There's also reporter-in-danger crises, of which I've had a fair share. Then there's other stuff that I sometimes think of as an in loco parentis role. You have these people who work for you, but they're also people. They have families and people in their family get cancer and die, and there's a lot of being there for people. That was not something I had anticipated. From coming in during the Jayson Blair scandal through having four journalists disappear in Libya, how do you put up with that stuff?

Ushered in as a caretaker of sorts after the turbulent years under Howell Raines, Keller, a former reporter and bureau chief, helped restore calm in the newsroom. But he also had to oversee the painful rounds of layoffs after the financial crisis shook the foundations of the media business. Abramson, he knew, had endured the Raines era admirably, and as a former managing editor himself, Keller supported her thereafter. New York offered a peek into Abramson's role as "heiress apparent" at The Times in a profile last fall:

She complained to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. about Raines’s attempts to marginalize her. And after Raines and his deputy, Gerald Boyd, were ousted following Jayson Blair’s deceptions, many in the newsroom saw Abramson as one of the leaders of the revolution. When it came time to appoint new leadership, Abramson was an obvious choice for Bill Keller as his No. 2 in charge of news.

Keller and Abramson didn’t have a close relationship at the time, but they’ve become a tight team and a stabilizing force after the tumultuous Raines era. “She’s an investigative reporter by temperament,” Keller says. “The investigative reporter in you makes you alert to hidden agendas. I tend to see the good in people. Jill is more wary and suspicious--she’s the perfect person to have my back.”

Keller won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for his reporting on the fall of the Soviet Union, and according to his own profile in New York "one of the most gifted foreign correspondents of his generation." The paper's top job apparently diverted Keller from his original ambitions, said the magazine, who also described the journalist as "a fiercely intelligent, taciturn, occasionally prickly man who never wanted to be an editor, let alone a leader."
Reactions to the news are rolling in. Quick out of the gates is Atlantic Digital's own editorial director Bob Cohn who asked on Twitter, "How soon til the sexist Jill v Arianna v Tina catfight stories??" Hinting at the Keller's recently controversial approach to the paper's digital strategy, Harvard' Nieman Lab recalled how "Abramson helped run NYT's online ops for "firsthand experience with the integration of the digital and print staffs."
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