Daniel Okrent’s Next Stop: A Harvard Fellowship

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By: Joe Strupp

As The New York Times remains mum on who will succeed Public Editor Daniel Okrent when his contract ends May 31, Okrent’s next stop is a bit clearer: a fellowship at Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on The Press, Politics and Public Policy.

Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center, told E&P that Okrent received final approval late Thursday for the fellowship. It will be a four-month position beginning next spring.

“He has accepted our invitation, and his project when he’s here will be about the job of public editor for The New York Times,” Jones told E&P. “Both how The New York Times came to appoint that job and what his experience was.”

Meanwhile, Jones, who has often been mentioned as a possible successor to Okrent, said he has not been contacted for the post. He is a former Times reporter and co-authored a well-regarded history, “The Trust,” of the Ochs and Sulzberger families.

Okrent, who became the Times’ first public editor in late 2003 as part of the paper’s response to the Jayson Blair scandal, also plans to finish a book on Prohibition. He said, before the fellowship was formally approved, that the Shorenstein Center would be a great place to do research.

“To have that four months set aside and access to great libraries and resources and an assistant would be very attractive,” Okrent told E&P. “I could work on my book and on something for them.”

Okrent said he put the book project aside when he joined the Times, but recently began efforts to finish it. He signed a contract with Scribner last fall and expects to finish the project for a 2008 publication. The book will be jointly released with a Ken Burns film on the same subject.

Times officials will not disclose who Okrent’s replacement will be, or even how many people are in the running. Okrent also remained silent, saying he is not involved in the process but knows to whom the paper is talking.

Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, who could not be reached for comment, has said that an announcement is likely by the end of March. Okrent’s 18-month contract ends May 31.

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