Buffalo News editor Margaret M. Sullivan to be next New York Times public editor

The New York Times | The Buffalo News
Margaret M. Sullivan, now editor of The Buffalo News, will succeed Arthur Brisbane as The New York Times public editor, becoming the first woman to hold the post. The Times announcement says the Web will become a larger part of the role for Sullivan:

Sullivan will continue to write a print column, but she will focus on a more active online role: as the initiator, orchestrator and moderator of an ongoing conversation about The Times’s journalism. That conversation will center on a blog and Web page on NYTimes.com, along with an active social media presence.

Executive Editor Jill Abramson, the first woman to hold that post, praised Sullivan’s combination of print experience and willingness to adapt to new platforms:

“She has an impressive 32-year background in print journalism where she has distinguished herself as a reporter, columnist, editor and manager. And critically for us at this time, she has shown adeptness at embracing new platforms and engaging and interacting with readers in real time online, in print and in person.”

Sullivan writes a blog for the News and holds a monthly live chat with readers. She joined Twitter in January (her handle is @Sulliview), and she had about 540 followers as her new position was announced. (She may end up doubling that by the end of the day.)

She joined the News as a summer intern in 1980 and rose to the ranks to become the paper’s first female editor. She was named to the Pulitzer Prize Board a year ago.

Unlike previous public editors, Sullivan has signed on for four years, reports Poynter’s Bill Mitchell. She told him that she emphasized two roles in her application: “smart aggregator” and “forum organizer.”

When the Times had narrowed the candidates to a pool of finalists, Glenn Kramon, an assistant managing editor, said the group included at least two women. Former Public Editor Daniel Okrent was one of several people who hoped the Times would prioritize diversity, saying, “It would be pretty wonderful if they had woman in the job, frankly.”

Kramon told me what the newspaper was looking for in the next public editor. “First and foremost,” he said, “somebody who is grounded in daily journalism. And is comfortable with the kind of journalism that is still at the core of what The New York Times does.”

Sullivan seems to meet those requirements. When she became editor of the News in 1999, she said she would focus on local enterprise reporting. In 2010, she wrote that newspapers are hardly washed up:

Newspapers continue to be the best source for news and enterprise journalism in our region. We remain committed to investigative journalism and rigorous reporting.

To do so means staying viable as businesses. We’re doing that by continuing to reinvent ourselves as a broad-based media companies and Internet destinations. Despite the headwinds we’ll get there. We simply must.

In a story for the News last year, Sullivan seems more conflicted about how the business is being reshaped. She says it’s tempting to believe that people can toggle between print and digital media, as she does in her own life. But it’s not so simple:

My experience is that, eventually, the digital choice always wins out. And while doing so, it eats away at our attention spans. It makes us voracious for information, impatient with a moment’s delay; it disquiets us.

She goes on to say that she finally “got what was happening” to newspapers when she read Clay Shirky’s essay, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.”

I love newspapers, books, magazines, letters, libraries. They are all a part of my life, and I hope they will be for a long time. I love what they offer and what they represent — thoughtfulness, tradition, a home for well-paid watchdog journalism, the utility of information that has been curated by intelligent editors, the impact of a 90-point headline, the beauty of a black and white photograph.

But I also love knowing what I want to know, right now. Connecting to people everywhere. Sharing photos and articles almost effortlessly. Breaking a news story within minutes, and to the whole world, instead of waiting 12 hours until the paper comes out in the morning and even then communicating with people only within range of our delivery trucks. Today, the two worlds coexist. We’re lucky that way.

But the tipping point is coming; the digital tsunami has already transformed the world of print as we know it. We can’t afford to spend the rest of the revolution wiping tears off our screens.

Career at The Buffalo News

Warren Buffett, who has recently gone on a newspaper buying spree, has owned The Buffalo News the entire time Sullivan has worked there. She told the Times’ Christine Haughney that Buffett has provided the resources to do the journalism she wanted, but it wasn’t infinite.

She said she had the financial resources to hire staff when necessary and to approve investigative projects, like a series last year on prescription drugs. But she does not have an endless bank account to spend on prizewinning journalism.

“We don’t have all of the resources behind us. We do really strong work, not to win awards, but to benefit the community. I think we’re very ambitious in our reporting.”

Sullivan wrote an essay for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2003 about the advantages and disadvantages of being a “kid who grows up to become the editor of the hometown paper.” On the one hand, no one had to explain the context for news stories. On the other hand:

What about fair play? Can anyone really exert utter impartiality when a story involves people you first met when they were twice your height? And how about the old friends who call and want something — are you fully prepared to tell your old parish priest that there’s no reporter for that church story he’s so enthusiastic about?

In June, Sullivan informed readers that the Buffalo News would start charging for online access this fall, joining the Times and a growing group of metro papers.

New  York Times announcement

NEW YORK, July 16, 2012 – The New York Times announced today that Margaret M. Sullivan, currently editor and vice president of The Buffalo News, will succeed Arthur S. Brisbane as public editor on September 1, 2012. Ms. Sullivan is the fifth public editor appointed by The Times.

The role of the public editor is to represent readers and respond to their concerns, critique Times journalism and increase transparency and understanding about how the institution operates. With the vast changes in journalism in recent years, the new public editor will seek new avenues for that mission. Ms. Sullivan will continue to write a print column, but she will focus on a more active online role: as the initiator, orchestrator and moderator of an ongoing conversation about The Times’s journalism. That conversation will center on a blog and Web page on NYTimes.com, along with an active social media presence.

Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, said, “Margaret has exactly the right experience to assume this critical role for us at this time. She has an impressive 32-year background in print journalism where she has distinguished herself as a reporter, columnist, editor and manager. And critically for us at this time, she has shown adeptness at embracing new platforms and engaging and interacting with readers in real time online, in print and in person.”

Ms. Sullivan has served as editor of The Buffalo News for the past 12 years, where she supervised the editorial operations of the largest newspaper in upstate New York along with the region’s leading news Web site. She began her career at the paper in 1980 as a reporter and metro columnist and subsequently was assistant city editor, assistant managing editor for features and managing editor, before being named editor in 1999.

Ms. Sullivan is a graduate of Georgetown University and holds an M.S.J. from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

The public editor will remain an independent voice, working outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newsroom. Like public editors before her, Ms. Sullivan will report to the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ELFH6FU4ZNWFR4AQC2FKWBKX34 Barry Spiegel

    As a Western NY resident throughout the 80s and 90s, I saw Margaret Sullivan’s career ascent and always found her to be a thoughtful editor who kept readers first, both in communicating issues in the press and on her general radar.    In particular, her move to require readers posting online comments to identify their names and locations took a lively and sometimes troubling public space and made it just as lively without the inappropriate levels of courage provided by anonymity.
     
    What a strong and impressive choice by the Times, and a very big loss for the Buffalo News.

  • Anonymous

    Oh good.  The next time the Times’s Arts page refers to Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop as the ONLY female Music Director in the US,  Margaret Sullivan will correct that error and make the point that the Music Director of the Buffalo, NY Philharmonic is JoAnn Falletta.