‘NY Times’ D.C. Staffers Welcome Baquet — But Will He Succeed Keller?

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By: Joe Strupp

The announcement that former Los Angeles Times Editor Dean Baquet would join The New York Times as Washington, D.C. bureau chief drew praise from several staffers in that bureau, who welcomed Baquet’s experience and management style to a bureau that has been through a series of tumultuous events in recent years.

A number of reporters in the bureau, which has weathered storms ranging from the murder last year of popular former reporter David Rosenbaum to several attacks by the Bush Administration on national security revelations, said Baquet will help the newsroom continue to improve in the wake of those difficulties.

“I’m very excited myself,” said Steve Weisman, a bureau reporter since 2001. “It is very exciting for this bureau that has had more than its share of tumult in the last couple of years. It has been a very strange period. I know Dean is just going to be great.”

Robin Toner, who covers politics and has worked in the D.C. bureau on and off for 20 years, agreed that Baquet would be a great addition. “I think it is terrific,” she said. “He’s a real joyful guy about newspapering, has a great love for it, and is really good at it. He can handle the pressure.”

Baquet’s hiring immediately threw him into the mix of candidates who could take over for Keller if and when he decides to step down. Several staffers who spoke with E&P noted that Baquet becomes an immediate addition to the short list for executive editor down the road, which already includes Managing Editor Jill Abramson, herself a former D.C. bureau chief.

“Of course he is a candidate,” John Broder, a staffer for six years in D.C., said. “He immediately catapults into that pool of successors.”

Citing the fact that Baquet would become the first black executive editor if he rose to the top, and Jill Abramson the first woman were she to reach the post, one staffer dubbed them the “Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of The New York Times.”

Broder, a 10-year Times veteran, said he was glad to see Baquet join the bureau, but lamented his departure from the Los Angeles Times. “The only hint of sadness is that he won’t be returning to Los Angeles, where he did a fantastic job,” said Broder. “I know Dean’s great love is investigative reporting. He loves to dig deep and all of us reporters love to do that.”

David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent, also praised Baquet, but pointed out that departing bureau chief Philip Taubman, who will take the new post of associate editor, “did amazing things with this place.” Sanger noted that Taubman, who took over in 2003 in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, helped the bureau rebound against attacks from several sides.

“He really stood fast against the Bush Administration and brought in great talent and really raised the level of our game,” Sanger said. He added that “we all know Dean, he is incredibly enthusiastic and a lot of fun. He is also one of those rare editors who stood up to management for journalism.”

Baquet, who was fired from the Los Angeles Times last fall after a dispute with Tribune Company managers over staff cuts, spent most of the 1990s at The New York Times, rising to national editor before he left in 2000 for Los Angeles. Although he has never worked in the Washington bureau, staffers contend that his experience and talent will make it work. “There is nothing wrong with someone coming in from the outside,” said one reporter who requested anonymity. “If it were for executive editor, that could be a problem. But not Washington bureau chief.”

Taubman, with the title of associate editor, will cover national security issues through an investigative beat. He and his wife, Felicity Barringer, a Times environmental writer, will relocate to California.

“The opportunity to return to a writing life is very appealing,” Taubman told E&P. “After three and a half years in a job like this, you never can predict what will happen. I might have stayed another year or two, but I am not disappointed by this.”

“It is really great,” Barringer, who will continue her beat in the West, told E&P. “We met in California, we have huge numbers of friends in California and if you are going to be a national environmental reporter, California is the place to be. It is ideal for me and Phil.”

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