Joe Pompeo: The New York Times Succession Timeline Is Coming Into Focus

From a story on by Joe Pompeo headlined “The NYT Succession Timeline Is Coming Into Focus”:

New York Times editor succession is kind of like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Every so often, chatter bubbles up to suggest something is afoot, that someone’s fortunes may have shifted one way or another, that a timeline has been accelerated (or decelerated), only for the guessing game to carry on and on and on, because, truthfully, no one really knows except the publisher of The New York Times, one A.G. Sulzberger. So take this latest chatter with the requisite grain of salt: A few weeks ago I got a text that said, “Have you heard that the announcement may be coming as soon as this month, with the full transition done in April?”

Juicy, right? Not so fast: I asked around, and while it does appear that whispers about some sort of April timeline are circulating, senior Times sources said they weren’t aware of anything concrete. “The conventional wisdom is that Dean’s leaving soon,” said one, “but the big question is, when is soon?” Dean is Dean Baquet, who became executive editor in 2014, and who in September turned 65, the age at which Times executives are generally expected to retire. His heir apparent is widely considered to be managing editor Joe Kahn, although Cliff Levy, another one of the Times’ most high-ranking editors, is technically still in the running, as are any number of dark horse candidates.

What’s driving the latest rumormongering? For one thing, Sulzberger’s annual State of the Times address is coming up. The event, which is being scheduled for mid-March, though it usually happens in January, hasn’t traditionally been a forum for revealing seismic management changes, but never say never? Also, in the words of an astute Times journalist, “I’m wondering if they want to link return-to-office and transition stuff. I’m betting they bring us back in April, so maybe it’s in time for the end of Dean?”

Sources in the know told me that Baquet, more than anyone, “has been itching to get back to the office.” Throughout the fall, he and other top masthead figures were all in the newsroom, and happily so. In December, before the omicron surge sent everyone back to their domiciles, Baquet led a series of meetings in the erstwhile Page One room with the leadership of various departments—international, national, metro, science, and so on. The meetings, as described to me by someone involved, “were intended to restore a sense of community.” But the brass didn’t even get through all of them by the time New York suddenly became one interminable COVID-testing line. Now the omicron wave is receding, and things could get back to normal-ish in the coming weeks. The sooner that happens, in theory, the sooner the game of thrones may commence. Or, at the very least, the sooner the speculation will begin to heat up more than it already has. “It’s going around,” a plugged-in Times journalist said.

There are two types of successions. One is the sudden, surprising type, as when Arthur Sulzberger Jr. fired Jill Abramson and elevated Baquet. The other is the carefully finessed and stage-managed type, as when Abramson succeeded Bill Keller. The handoff from Baquet to his successor will mirror the latter, and there are newsroom leaders who believe a decision has already been made and that the only question now is when it will be revealed to the Times and the world. However things shake out, it would stand to reason that Baquet wants to be back in the newsroom when they do. As one of my senior Times sources put it, “Dean doesn’t want to step down remotely. He wants to be executive editor back in the newsroom, to connect with his newsroom, and then say goodbye to his newsroom. He doesn’t want to say goodbye in a Zoom call.”

Joe Pompeo is Vanity Fair’s senior media correspondent.


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