NEW YORK – For Howell Raines (search), the rise to the top of The New York Times spanned a quarter-century, from bureau chief in Atlanta to White House correspondent to executive editor at the newspaper's West 43rd Street headquarters.
His fall was a precipitous tumble that followed five weeks of turmoil.
Raines, 60, along with Managing Editor Gerald M. Boyd (search), stepped down Thursday after the controversy created by reporter Jayson Blair's (search) lies and national writer Rick Bragg's (search) work habits enveloped the Times and failed to dissipate.
His resignation was announced in the very newsroom where Raines had celebrated the Times' unprecedented seven Pulitzer Prizes (search) a year earlier.
There was little argument about Raines' qualifications when he ascended to his position in September 2001. After working at several newspapers in his native Alabama, and in Georgia and Florida, he joined the Times in 1978 as a national correspondent based in Atlanta.
In 1992, he captured a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, for a Times Magazine piece called "Grady's Gift" — a reflection about his life growing up in the South.
He wrote three books — Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis, the novel Whiskey Man and an oral history of the civil rights movement titled My Soul Rested.
At the Times, he moved from Atlanta bureau chief to White House correspondent, national political correspondent and editorial page editor. He replaced retiring editor Joseph Lelyveld (search) just days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center; the Times' coverage, under his leadership, was universally hailed.
Editor & Publisher, a trade magazine covering the newspaper industry, selected Raines as its editor of the year.
But over the next 18 months, his style came under fire by his staff. Reporters complained of a star system and Raines' imperious attitude; one of those stars was Jayson Blair, a mistake-prone reporter who seemed to fail upward.
Raines had his eye on Blair even before taking over as editor, citing the young reporter by name in an August 2001 speech before the National Association of Black Journalists (search). He held Blair out as an example of the Times' new commitment to hiring promising young journalists.
"In recent years, we have broadened the way we identify and recruit talent, and have worked harder to spot the best and brightest while they are still on their way up," Raines said.
Less than two years later, Blair helped bring Raines down.
The 27-year-old reporter resigned May 1 after being accused of plagiarizing a story. The Times quickly discovered three dozen stories that included fabrications, plagiarism or other kinds of fraud.
At a May 14 staff meeting, Raines conceded the complaints about him were justified.
"You view me as inaccessible and arrogant," he said. "Fear is a problem to such an extent that editors are scared to bring me bad news."
He also acknowledged that race may have played a subconscious role in his treatment of Blair, particularly in naming him to a high-powered team covering the Washington-area sniper case.
"You have a right to ask if I as a white man from Alabama with those convictions gave him one chance too many by not stopping his appointment to the sniper team. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes. It was a terrible mistake that harmed our paper, and I apologize for it."
He added: "Where I come from, when it comes to principles on race, you have to pick a ditch to die in, and let it come rough or smooth, you'll find me in the trenches for justice."
Boyd, 52, one of the most prominent black journalists in the nation, started his own career as a newsroom assistant at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he eventually became the paper's White House correspondent.
Joining the Times in 1983, he soon became a member of its national political team and later a senior editor. He served as an editor of the Times' 2000 series "How Race Is Lived in America," which won a Pulitzer. Diversity in the newsroom was an important goal for Boyd, one he raised even in his speech to the staff Thursday.
Boyd was named managing editor at the same time as Raines, and the two were widely seen as a partnership leading the newspaper.
Through much of the tumult, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (search) expressed support for his embattled executive editor and managing editor.
And then came another problem — this one involving Raines' friend and national correspondent Bragg, who acknowledged using a stringer to do virtually all the reporting on a story about Florida oystermen.
The stringer received no credit, and Bragg took the byline — a violation of newspaper policy that led to a two-week suspension. Raines accepted Bragg's resignation on May 28.
At a certain point, the newsroom's loss of confidence in its leader apparently became too great.
"Howell had covered Washington enough and covered enough administrations long enough ... to know that in circumstances like this, the person at the top has to take the hit," said Mitch Blumenthal, editor of the Times' New Jersey section.
In the Times' third-floor newsroom Thursday, Raines told the staff he planned to return to writing and studying history, and would pursue his interests in painting and photography.