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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Top N.Y. Times Editors Quit

NEW YORK -- Two of the most powerful figures in U.S. journalism, New York Times executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald M. Boyd, have resigned after two reporting scandals that called into question the judgment of the leadership of the nation's most influential newspaper.

The two men depart a year after the Times won an unprecedented seven Pulitzer Prizes and Raines had seemed the very symbol of a cocky and confident Timesman. Joseph Lelyveld, the newspaper's 66-year-old former executive editor, has agreed to take the helm temporarily while the Times seeks a permanent successor.

"They made a sacrifice for the good of a newspaper they love," said Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., the paper's chairman and publisher, who stood alongside his two top managers as they announced their departure to the staff Thursday. "They felt this was necessary to bring an end to this, and at the end of the day, I sadly agreed with them."

Neither Raines, 60, nor Boyd, 52, will hold any further official position with the New York Times, Sulzberger said.

In April, the Times discovered that Jayson Blair, a young reporter assigned to the national desk, had plagiarized copy, lied about his whereabouts and fabricated interviews. The Times published a lengthy excavation of his varied malefactions but failed to answer why Raines and Boyd allowed the transfer of the inexperienced and error-plagued reporter to the prestigious national desk. Several weeks later, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg was discovered to have written a deeply textured account of a Southern oysterman without having set foot on the man's boat. Bragg later resigned, and pressure mounted on the top editors.

Still, Raines' and Boyd's swift end shocked reporters and editors at the 152-year-old institution. Most learned of the resignations only after managers tapped them on the shoulder and urged them to walk over to the newspaper's national desk. Hundreds of reporters, editors and copy aides gathered around. Raines and Boyd walked into the newsroom with their wives, followed by Sulzberger. Some of those present began to cry openly.

When it was Boyd's turn to speak, his hand wavered slightly and he noted simply: "I'm not going to bury the lead. I'm going to quit."

"It was also an immensely sad day for everyone," said Dinitia Smith, a Times reporter. "Howell was immensely talented, and I personally liked him, and this has almost Shakespearean dimension."

Others privately drew a less charitable measure of Raines. Editors and reporters spoke of a swaggering, sometimes acerbic man who played favorites and drove out quite a few talented reporters. When the courtly if hardly outgoing Lelyveld walked through the newsroom this afternoon, many greeted him as one would a long-lost favorite uncle. There were hugs and handshakes, and even the sound of laughter.

"People are shaken up, but we're optimistic," said Deborah Sontag, a 12-year veteran of the newspaper who now writes for its magazine. "The Times has too much talent to be damaged."

Perhaps so, although many acknowledge the resignations-under-fire of Raines and Boyd, and the questions raised about a few of its reporters, have left The New York Times more vulnerable than at any time in recent memory. Some reporters describe sources making joke after joke at their expense, and even trying -- often ham-handedly -- to squeeze out a favorable story. Conservatives, in particular, claim to divine in the newspaper's troubles the sins of arrogance, liberalism and a commitment to a mushy-headed diversity. Blair is a young black man. Bragg is a middle-aged white man. (Raines is white; Boyd is black).

Noemie Emery, a conservative columnist for the Weekly Standard, wrote Thursday that Sulzberger tried to "turn the paper of record into the Village Voice. ... The motif of the Times became late-'60s protest, bent on annoying the male and the white."

Sulzberger had little patience for such characterizations of his paper this morning. He emphasized that the Times would not back away from aggressive reporting or its commitment to diversity in hiring. "A newsroom that has a diversity of ethnicity and race and gender helps us to report the world not as [critics] would like to see it, but the world as it is," Sulzberger said. "Diversity is not just something that's nice to have, it's something that we need."

Some veteran reporters noted that the Times, and its large competitors, including The Washington Post, did not come skipping to the front door in past decades to hire black, Latino and female reporters. Even today, they note, many of the youngest hired are white.

"Let's look at the record honestly," said Lena Williams, a 29-year Times veteran and an official in the Newspaper Guild. "I try to tell some of the younger reporters: There's a long history here, sweetheart."

The fall of Raines and Boyd was startling for several reasons, not least the fashion in which it upended the power structure at The New York Times. Traditionally, the executive editors at the nation's most powerful newspapers rule as potentates -- decision-making is collaborative but not egalitarian. They tend to rise and fall on their own judgments. Some Times executive editors, such as A.M. Rosenthal, reigned with more than a whiff of fear, while others, such as Max Frankel, took the role of the avuncular curmudgeon.

Raines seemed to lean toward the Rosenthal model. In September 2001, he came in talking of "flooding the zone" with reporters and insisting on stories that would tell a reader all that he needed to know on a subject. He also clashed loudly and repeatedly with his Washington bureau chief and forced out several respected veterans. In the view of some, Raines valued most highly those who would saddle up and ride on a moment's notice. Blair, in this regard, seemed tailor-made for Raines' tastes. He was young and eager, and he laughed loudly at the boss's jokes. Raines and Boyd moved Blair to a short-handed national staff, a promotion that came even though metro editor Jonathan Landman explicitly warned of his failings as a reporter.

"Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg opened the floodgates of anger," said Donald G. McNeil Jr., a Times science writer. Raines "always knew better what the story was, and he was going to make all the decisions about hiring and he was going to send favorites in to bigfoot people."

When Blair failed and then resigned, and Bragg, who was a longtime Raines favorite, followed soon after, the executive editor could rely on no cache of goodwill in the newsroom. In recent weeks, reporters have written extraordinary and often public e-mails decrying Bragg and Blair and, more tellingly, the management system that had allowed such reporters to flourish.

Still, Raines seemed not to see what the future held. As late as Monday evening, Raines spoke with friends and assured them that he would ride out these troubles. But Tuesday, Sulzberger had lunch with the Washington bureau of the Times and what he heard disturbed him, say several sources, as many spoke with anger of Raines and Boyd.

"I got the sense that a tipping point had been reached," said Susan E. Tifft, a Duke University journalism professor who co-authored "The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times." "There was no way out. At the end of the day, any family member who sits in that seat [of publisher] would have to make the decision that Arthur Jr. made for the good of the Times."

When Raines walked out onto the floor with Boyd and Sulzberger on Thursday, he tried a smile, some said, but it faded. He spoke of memorable newspapers and wanting to write of art and literature.

"As I'm standing here before you for the last time, I want to thank you for the honor and privilege of being a member of the best journalistic community in the world," he said, concluding a few sentences later: "After 25 years at the Times, I look forward to a different kind of adventure ... and remember, when a big story breaks out, go like hell."

There was loud and sustained applause for the departing men, and soon enough it was over. There was no mention of Jayson Blair's name.