A Bad Morning at The New York Times

Mary Altaffer/AP Images
Gerald Boyd, the managing editor of The New York Times, and Howell Raines, the executive editor, on their way to a meeting about the Jayson Blair scandal, New York City, May 14, 2003

Gerald Boyd was a classic specimen of the self-made man. Born poor, he worked and studied his way up out of poverty under the guidance of his widowed grandmother. Childhood was work and study, study and work, and though they do not always guarantee success, for Gerald Boyd they did just what movies, books, and professional moralizers said they would do, probably because his widowed grandmother contributed a lot of wisdom, love, and iron to the self-making; and in his early fifties Gerald Boyd became managing editor of The New York Times. This was the second most important job in the newsroom of one of the world’s better newspapers. He was the first black ever to reach such a dazzling position in the Times hierarchy, and the gaudiest job of all—the executive editorship—seemed within his reach almost until the very moment he was fired.

The firing occurred in the spring of 2003 in a bizarre seizure of office politics, and, as such things will, it left Boyd anything but well disposed toward his former employer and colleagues. He has written a good book filled with ill feeling toward the Times, many of its editors, and a variety of colleagues who turned against him under pressure or simply because they wanted him to fail and be damned. Written during the three years between his firing and his death from cancer in 2006, the book is now published posthumously with the help of his wife, Robin Stone.

Lovers of newspaper gossip will find it delightfully indiscreet about self-serving treacheries hatched in the newsroom by people simultaneously engaged in high-minded pursuit of all the news that’s fit to print. Times folk, especially of the management class, will not be delighted by his account of their awkward struggle with the race problem or Boyd’s suggestion that bigotry was one of the causes of his downfall.

There were other causes, however, and when all are combined, they present a picture of a runaway newsroom that left the paper’s top editorial caste—and even its owners—suddenly powerless to control events. In the plainest possible terms, what happened in the newsroom was a successful workers’ uprising against the bosses, in which the workers won and the bosses were humiliated.

What may strike the reader as oddest of all about the several curiosities of this rebellion is that it had almost nothing to do with the paper’s editorial policy or its news coverage. When it was over, the Times ‘s news management had changed hands, but the paper went right on being the same New York Times it had been before. What had happened was not a revolution of ideas, but…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.