The Office Politics of the New York Times Op-Ed Page

Changes in the columnist line-up has meant a scramble on the paper's 13th floor

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When Bill Keller stepped down as New York Times executive editor to write columns, the big news was obviously Jill Abramson's promotion as the first female editor of the nation's leading paper, as well as the promotions and newsroom realignments that come with any new regime. But for those on "columnist row" on the 13th floor of the paper's midtown Renzo Piano-designed office tower, where the Op-Ed columnists toil and give us frequent contributions to our Five Best Columns, there was one big specific question: Where is everyone going to sit?

Even prior to Keller's new assignment to the Op-Ed page, things had been in flux. Frank Rich left for New York magazine at the beginning of March, and his old office went to Joe Nocera when he moved from the business desk to Op-Ed, Rich told The Atlantic Wire. But the real prize of the 13th floor opened up a few weeks later with the retirement of Bob Herbert, who worked at the paper for nearly 20 years. His giant corner office, with big windows facing 41st Street, uptown views and lots of natural light, was now up for grabs. (Editorial page editor, Andy Rosenthal, we're told, is in charge of assigning offices.)  "I had heard that a couple of the other new columnists had asked for Herbert's office," Rich said. The newcomers were not in luck: the page's veteran star Maureen Dowd scooped it up instead.

However D.C.-based Dowd does not use the precious space very often, a source at The Times told us.* After this story was published, Dowd's office contacted The Atlantic Wire to say that our source was incorrect about the frequency in which Dowd travels to New York: "in the past six weeks, Maureen worked from that office for three of them, and in fact travels there at least once a month. Additionally, it is not a corner office." This isn't uncommon of columnists not based in New York City. Paul Krugman, Ross Douthat and David Brooks aren't based in New York City either, but they have less grand workspaces for when they visit the Times Building. Danielle Rhodes Ha, director of communications at The Times, told us, "We don't discuss seating or office arrangements." That went for Dowd, Rosenthal, and the rest of the Op-Ed staffers who did not return our calls.

When Bill Keller stepped down as executive editor and started writing a column this month, they needed to find a place to put him. By that time the Op-Ed page had already welcomed former political reporter and food critic Frank Bruni in May, and Bruni had been assigned Dowd's old space. So where did the paper's former top editor end up? Well, our source's description didn't evoke the grandeur of Herbert's old space. Keller's new office is on par with those of columnists Bruni, Mark Bittman, and Charles Blow, but it's a "windowless inside office," our source said, that "looks into a hallway."

*Correction: This story originally included a source's estimate of the frequency of Maureen Dowd's visits to the New York Times Building that her office says was incorrect.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.