NEW YORK – Now that the top two editors of The New York Times (search) have quit, the newspaper faces a difficult undertaking: restoring its credibility in the aftermath of a plagiarism (search) scandal and revamping its fractious newsroom culture, editors and journalism experts say.
The sudden resignations Thursday of Howell Raines as executive editor and Gerald Boyd as managing editor left a highly unusual gap at the top. The Times will be led on an interim basis by former executive editor Joseph Lelyveld, 66, and it's unclear how long it will take for new leaders to be named.
Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said the paper would look both "inside the Times and outside," although many expect the next editors of the 152-year-old paper to come from within its own ranks.
"It would be a huge surprise, and a mistake, if an outsider was named to head The New York Times," said James Naughton, a former Times reporter and president of the Poynter Institute, a training center for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. "It's a hugely complex organization."
Whoever ends up taking the reins will face several daunting tasks: making peace with a disgruntled news staff that viewed Raines as aloof and arrogant, and restoring trust among readers following revelations that reporter Jayson Blair (search) frequently invented or plagiarized material in his stories.
"The Times' values need to be strengthened, shored up and reinforced," said Susan Tifft, a former associate editor at Time magazine and coauthor of The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times.
"For that reason, it's one of the most important watershed moments in the paper's history," Tifft said. "It brings together the paper's credibility, which is the most central thing that a newspaper has to sell. If you don't have that, you might as well shut down."
In a memo to the staff, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. acknowledged the newsroom culture needed work. "While we focus on our craft, I can assure you that we will be just as focused on the goal of creating a work environment that is commensurate with the quality of our journalism and the esteem with which our brand, The New York Times, is held."
"I think their culture needs to change," said Naughton of the Poynter Institute. "The next thing that needs to happen is the very difficult work of developing a collaborative environment in the newsroom. It is not a newspaper that is known for a collaborative spirit."
Sandra Mims Rowe, editor of The Oregonian in Portland, put it another way:
"On the one hand, journalism depends on great individual talent, but it's also a collective enterprise ... where there is mutual respect and trust," Rowe said. "That has been revealed to be deeply shaken at The New York Times and that is their most important work right now, to restore that."
The crisis at the Times is being watched closely by newspaper editors across the nation, many of whom are concerned the fallout from the Blair scandal and the management shake-up could affect the credibility of other news media.
"It's clearly a time of searching reappraisals by smart editors and journalists to assess how we do our jobs," said Rich Oppel, editor of the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas.
"Nobody could have anticipated a lying sociopath like Jayson Blair in their newsroom, but now we must tighten policies on plagiarism and search wherever we can for problems of accuracy and fairness," said Oppel, whose son works in the Times' Washington bureau.