Media: Outside heir to the grey lady's chair: Peter Pringle reports on the crowning of an editor, New York-style

When a British newspaper gains a new editor, the change is invariably sudden and bloody, the result of an office putsch or external takeover. In America, years before the actual moment, they start to talk about 'the succession', as if it were royalty. This is especially true at the New York Times, the city's leading daily, where such momentous decisions are never made on deadline but pondered for years. Not only must a new editor be named, an heir apparent must be recognised, too.

Everyone at the Times knows when 'the succession' is due: on the editor's 65th birthday, not a day later. So when Max Frankel, the current executive editor, suddenly decided one year ahead of time to abdicate, Arthur Sulzberger, the youthful Times publisher who inherited his job by virtue of his family owning the controlling stock, was presented with an unusual problem. The succession had not been decided. At all costs an unseemly scramble at court had to be avoided; there must never be any public scrapping in the wood-panelled offices at the 'good grey lady', as the Times was known before sexism codes ruled out such a nickname.

As announced this month, the new editor will be Frankel's deputy, the current managing editor, Joe Lelyveld, a lifelong Times man, described by the New Yorker as 'brilliant but forbidding'. He is 57 and therefore has a good eight years to go in the editor's chair. Publisher Sulzberger, 42, let Lelyveld know in the manner expected of Northern gentlemen, or chiefs of state. One weekend they went for a walk in the woods of upstate New York. 'It was a very touching moment,' Lelyveld recalled.

But who was to be Lelyveld's deputy, and heir to the chair? To follow tradition, the Times had to pick an insider; and, to be politically correct, as always, the Times had at least to consider a woman, or a minority candidate, preferably somebody black.

Two such candidates were discussed. Anna Quindlen, a columnist who is a good friend of Sulzberger, but too young at 41: that meant she would become editor at 49 with 16 years to go. Couldn't have that. The black candidate was Gerald Boyd, currently an assistant managing editor, but he is only 43 and has never been a foreign correspondent. Hrrumph, hrrumph. That would not do, either. Not yet, anyway.

So, the Times had to do what every monarchy must in such cases: bring in a guardian, a prince regent. In the past, outsiders were not even considered, but in this case the Times turned to Gene Roberts, former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who is 61. He had been a Times junior editor, so that was just about all right. And he would have to retire before Lelyveld was forced to give up. So Sulzberger was buying time.

But to many watching this old-style rite of passage, Sulzberger has bought much more than time. Frankel, known as courtly and professorial, moved the newspaper away from strictly defined rules for news reporting, allowing his star reporters to enter the previously forbidden territory of 'context', instead of only what happened yesterday. The 'news analysis' appeared more frequently, and sometimes even became, dare one say it, opinionated pieces that were a joy to read. In its editorials, the Times suddenly switched from gentlemanly counsel to sharp name-calling of senators and congressmen. They didn't like it, of course. But good writers were given their head and, in that way, Frankel retained the kind of maturing talent that, under his predecessors, had left daily journalism to write books or join magazines.

In foreign and domestic news, however, Times reporters are still restrained, unable to use first-person pronouns and forced to include middle initials, as in Boris N Yeltsin. Because it is the paper of record its reporters include phonetic spellings of unpronounceable places, all of which slow the flow of the story - especially against the freer styles of the Times's local rivals, the tabloid Daily News and Newsday.

Even with its sterling reputation, the Times cannot afford to coast into the next century. In the economic climate of the Nineties, competition for advertising is tough. In 1987, the paper carried a total of 123,237,300 lines of advertising. In 1993, it carried only 77,786,600 lines.

Roberts may not be able to beef up advertising, but he has a reputation for encouraging reporting staff to go after local stories and write them at length. He is a Southerner who is legendary for long silences, broken by nuggets of journalistic wisdom, and presided over a staff that won 17 Pulitzers during his 18-year tenure at the Inquirer. More changes are expected.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Social Media Director (Global) - London Bridge/Southwark

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Social Media Director (Gl...

Personal and Legal Assistant – Media and Entertainment

£28,000 - £31,000: Sauce Recruitment: A Global media business based in West Lo...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice