IT WOULD BE a foolís game to assess the likelihood that Boston Globe editor Marty Baron will be named to a top editing job at the New York Times. But thereís no question that he is one of the few plausible candidates to be the Timesí next executive editor or managing editor. And that has members of the Globe staff wondering what itís going to mean for them if Baron leaves just two summers after succeeding Matt Storin.
"I think it would be kind of a rough period, and maybe it would just reinforce to the staff that weíre sort of a backwater, a farm team," says a Globe source who asked not to be named, referring to the New York Times Companyís ownership of the Globe.
Baronís name was entered in the Times sweepstakes on June 4, in an online piece by Newsweek media reporter Seth Mnookin, who also identified Los Angeles Times managing editor Dean Baquet as a strong candidate. At the time, Mnookinís speculation seemed premature; he reported that both men had told him they hadnít been contacted about the job.
But Mnookin proved prescient. Two days later, following five weeks of turmoil that had begun with the firing of reporter Jayson Blair, executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd resigned. And Baron ó along with Baquet and several internal New York Times candidates, including columnist (and exĖmanaging editor) Bill Keller, Washington-bureau chief Jill Abramson, metropolitan editor Jonathan Landman, and editorial-page editor Gail Collins ó was mentioned as a possible replacement in virtually every account.
Baron himself is saying little. This past Tuesday he told me that he had decided to stop answering questions about whether he had spoken to anyone at the Times, explaining, "It seems to me to serve no purpose just to sit here every day and say Iíve heard from no one. Iím not going to get into that game."
When asked what impact his possible departure would have on the Globe, he replied, "I donít think thereís any purpose served in speculating on that prospect at all. Right now Iím here, Iím happy, Iím focused on what Iím doing here, and I donít want to speculate on what might happen."
The possibility that Baron will move on has prompted considerable discussion in the ranks, even if no one wants to go on the record about it. Suffice it to say that Baron gets a lot of credit for leading the charge on the paperís Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Catholic Church crisis, for supervising the paperís excellent reporting on such global news events as 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for bringing a renewed sense of standards and accountability to the paper.
Baron may not be loved ó to say that heís not the warm-and-fuzzy type would be an understatement ó but he is respected. And few would welcome the prospect of bringing in yet another new editor.
Still, there is quite a bit of logic to the notion of calling Baron to New York, whether it is for the number-one or -two job. After a stint of some 17 years at the Los Angeles Times, where he served in such key positions as business editor and Orange CountyĖedition editor, Baron moved to the New York Times in 1996, becoming an associate managing editor the following year. In practical terms, he was the night editor, and he won good reviews for his ability to manage some rather large egos.
Baron also worked with Baquet and Keller, who were both at the Times during that period. When I asked them about Baron shortly after heíd been chosen as the Globeís editor, they raved about him, which suggests he could work well with either one (see "Goodbye to All That," News and Features, July 20, 2001). In fact, Baquet considers himself a "close friend" of Baronís. Baquet is African-American; and given that some observers think it unlikely that Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would place two white men at the top of the masthead, that suggests that a Baquet-Baron (or Baron-Baquet) team is not implausible.
Perhaps more important, in light of the troubles that beset Raines and Boyd, is that Baron has had two opportunities to run his own shop, and he did so with distinction each time. Before coming to the Globe, he worked for 18 months as executive editor of the Miami Herald, in his home state of Florida, winning a Pulitzer for the paperís coverage of the Elián González saga. Baron also received praise for maintaining high standards at a time when Knight Ridder, the corporate owner, was slashing costs. All of which adds up to an attractive résumé.
"I would say heís a very strong candidate because heís punched a lot of important tickets around the country. Heís been with them [the New York Times].... He has to be a very strong candidate because heís so highly regarded there," says Stephen Burgard, director of the Northeastern University School of Journalism. Burgard worked with Baron in the early í90s, when Baron was the LA Timesí Orange County editor and Burgard was the editionís editorial-page editor.
Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center for the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, at Harvardís Kennedy School, is both a former Times staff member and the co-author of a 1999 book about the Sulzberger family, The Trust. He praises the job Baron has done with the Globe, and doesnít doubt that Baron is well regarded at the Times. "Iím sure heís thought of very highly, but honestly, Iím just guessing along with everybody else," Jones says.
But Jones adds that there is another consideration that should not be overlooked, and that might militate against Baronís being called to the Times: the Globe is an important property for the Times Company. "There are reasons not to create another problem by solving the one in New York, which they would do," Jones cautions. Still, he adds, "I know the New York Times well enough to know that there is likely to be a whole host of considerations that we are absolutely unaware of."
In published accounts of the Timesí succession drama, observers have noted that all the potential candidates who have been named are in their late 40s or early 50s, which could in itself be a problem. (Baron is 48.) Sulzberger is thought not to want to choose an executive editor who would be in place for more than a decade, which would be the case if any of those people served until the age of 65. This concern is often cited as one of the reasons Raines was picked over Keller, whoís now 54. Jones, though, discounts that, saying that Sulzberger could, if he wanted, put a time limit on the job.
Then, too, even if Sulzberger prizes stability at the Globe, he presumably would not want to risk losing Baron altogether ó which could happen if Baron is passed over for a top spot. Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll, 61, is not far from retirement. If Carrollís logical successor, Baquet, decides instead to return to New York, then Baron might be a leading contender to run the newspaper at which he spent the longest stretch of his career. At the Wall Street Journal, managing editor Paul Steiger ó an avowed Baron fan ó is 60. And not only is Baron a former business editor, but heís got an MBA from Lehigh University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa as an undergraduate.
This is, of course, all speculation. The succession process could drag on for months, although some believe that the Timesí interim executive editor, Joe Lelyveld, who also preceded Raines, would like matters resolved in a matter of weeks. "Joe will be here for a limited time frame. We will look both inside and outside the New York Times, but beyond that thereís not a lot I can tell you," says Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis.
Not that many years ago, the vast majority of prominent editors spent most of their careers at one paper. The Times, certainly, has kept things in-house. Now, given the corporatization of newspaper culture, things are different. Switch one or two pieces on the chessboard at any of the top-10 newspapers, and that can lead to a whole series of other moves.
In this respect, big-time editors may be evolving into executives not unlike those in other businesses: brought in for their track record, often for a limited period of time, rather than promoted out of a sense of institutional loyalty. Like high-priced free agents in Major League Baseball, the modern editor is something of a nomad.
Baseball fans sometimes observe that a Ted Williams would never spend his entire career with one team today. Well, neither will Marty Baron, Dean Baquet, or many of their contemporaries. The business has changed. And it is a business.