Times Are Changing At The New York Times p. 20

By: Joe Deitch A little more than a year into his editorship, Joseph Lelyveld
discusses some improvements the paper has made under his helm sp.

WHY, YOU MAY ask, is a large, framed picture of the Three Stooges in the otherwise tastefully furnished office of the executive editor of a newspaper that has won 70 Pulitzer Prizes?
The picture of the immortal threesome hangs on the wall just opposite the executive editor's desk, making it visually inescapable for him and visitors.
"It is a reminder to management not to go off in all directions or tangents," said Joseph Lelyveld, who was named to the New York Times' top editorial post in July 1994.
Lelyveld recently discussed the changes and improvements in the paper since he became its chief editor.
For one thing, and most obvious, there's color. The good gray Sunday Times no longer consists of page after page of unrelieved gray matter, a consequence of printing some 150,000 words a day culled from the two or so million that pour into the paper from all over the world every day, according to a book on great newspapers.
To the delight of Times readers queried in trains, buses and subways, color now abounds in the arts and leisure and travel/real estate sections, the regional supplements, and the magazine and the book review.
"And there is more ahead, including color on the front page," Lelyveld said.
The Times will go to color on its daily pages in 1997, when the paper's new plant in the borough of Queens is completed, Lelyveld said.
Why all the changes and beefings-up in the first place?
"Formats do get tired," Lelyveld said. "In every case, we have tried to expand our coverage, to get more ambitious, to cover a wider area more intensively. It didn't change for the sake of change, but change with substantive goals."
A primary area of change was in the business section, where the Times added staff and has devoted more space to major business stories.
Lelyveld described it as "a competitive mentality under new and ambitious leadership ? competitive with everybody else who covers business. It's a boom field in journalism. We felt, quite frankly, that we were not keeping pace."
Lelyveld cited the inexorable growth of the mutual-fund market and NASDAQ market tables that were eating into the business section's news hole.
"They took more than a page of our business and financial news to show expanded statistical information over the past five years," he said. "This trend was eating away at the guts of our news reports. We felt that we had to put that news hole back ? to restore it."
The overall strategic direction for change in the paper grows out of regular conversations with the publisher and the business side. Since Lelyveld became executive editor, masthead editors from the news and business sides have been meeting on the paper's future.
"Since Mr. Ochs bought the Times in 1896, the paper has constantly changed and undergone renewal," Lelyveld said. "Few people realize how much the Times has changed even in our lifetimes."
In the 1920s, before Lelyveld was born, the Times ran a front-page, banner headline on Jack Dempsey knocking out Gene Tunney at Soldier Field in Chicago.
"That's not the Times that anybody who grew up with the paper in my years would have imagined possible," Lelyveld remarked.
The Times that many people remember most was really the creation of Theodore M. Bernstein, an influential editor at the Times for more than 50 years and a pre-William Safire maven on language usage and abusage.
Lelyveld pointed out that Bernstein's changes were made during World War II, and "the paper has changed steadily under Ted, Clifton Daniel, Abe Rosenthal and Max Frankel."
Change, he said, goes on.
"Under Max, we worked hard at reinvigorating our regional coverage. He did the same for sports, giving it more space and staff and better direction. We did the same last year for the Times magazine, and this year it was the turn of the business pages.
"It's like painting a battleship," the executive editor mused. "You finish and it's time to paint again."
Newsroom attitudes about the changes have been positive, Lelyveld said.
"It may be self-serving for one to say this, but the spirit in the newsroom right now is as good as I've ever known it to be. There is a sense that this is the place to be, and we are attracting wonderful, young journalists from across the country.
"There's always been a kind of tradition of sour self-criticism at the Times ? no one is tougher on us than we are ourselves. I think the mood around here these days is pretty buoyant."
Lelyveld praised the paper's management for continuing to recruit during the newspaper industry's down economic years.
"We watched our staff levels and, in fact, reduced those levels. But during that period, we did some of the best recruiting this paper had done in my long career with it. We were pretty much the only major newspaper aggressively recruiting at the same time that other papers were experiencing hiring freezes. This is the paper's tradition. The Times has traditionally invested in itself in bad times in order to reap rewards in good times."
How does Lelyveld view the role of the Times?
"The role of the New York Times is a very traditional one. We do as straight, steady and principled a job as we can. That doesn't mean that the paper can't change ? it has to change. I don't think our standards need changing. They need reinforcing and maintenance. Not that I think there's a threat to our standards from within the paper. But a lot of what I worry about is in preserving what we have here and making sure that when I hand over the paper to my successor, the standards are as high as they were when I inherited it from Max Frankel," he said.
"Many people value the Times because it reports local, national and world news in much greater depth and with clearer and accurate perspectives. Some see the paper as a daily, liberal education ? if you have the time to read all of it," Lelyveld said. "Few people read it all. Our recent series on the welfare state is an example of what we try to do around here."
To what extent is the changing Times a reflection of the convictions and ideas of the new executive editor?
"I hope, in some small way, the paper will be a reflection of my news judgment, intuition and, if you will, my passion for news," Lelyveld said. "When you consider the kind of work we do here, half the time you don't know what you think about things. I can tell you this ? I do not see the paper as a personal instrument to reflect my views and ideas."
Before becoming executive editor, Lelyveld served as the Times' managing editor, foreign editor and staff writer and columnist for the New York Times Magazine. He was a Times correspondent in London, New Delhi, Hong Kong and Washington and was twice the Times' correspondent in South Africa.
His book on South Africa, Move Your Shadow, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986. He also won awards from the Overseas Press Club and the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Other honors were two George Polk Memorial Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Lelyveld is married and has two daughters. He is mostly a soft-spoken man of slight build who has been an eyewitness and reporter at many historic and sweeping events of the 20th century.
His eyes, serious and penetrating, show it.
"Your real struggle here is to try to stay on top of stories. My job is to stoke the engine and keep the thing charging forward," he said, and dashed off to a meeting.
?("In every case, we have tried to expand our coverage, to get more ambitious, to cover a wider area more intensively. It didn't change for the sake of change, but change with substantive goals.") [Caption]
?(-Joseph Lelyveld, excutive editor, New York Times) [Caption]


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