When New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines resigned Thursday, he left behind an important and lasting legacy, including this: he advanced visual journalism at the Gray Lady to an all-time high. Today, the paper is viewed as a dynamic and innovative visual publication, one that respects and integrates effective visual reporting.
The resignations of Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd were announced in about the same spot where the paper celebrated winning a record seven Pulitzer Prizes just 14 months ago. Two of those prized possessions were the coveted photography awards.
By his own admission, Raines is a lover of photography. During a telephone interview on May 1 he said, “I have loved pictures since I was 7 years old. I am an amateur photographer at heart. And I see it as a ‘professional principle’ that pictures are independent content. We would be so much poorer in our understanding had it not been for great photographic coverage of our time.”
This philosophy was instilled at the Times under his leadership.
Shortly after his term began, Raines met with the entire photography staff, then under the direction of picture editor Margaret O’Connor. At that meeting, Raines learned of the photography department’s great frustrations, most specifically about the lack of involvement in coverage, few traveling opportunities for photographers, and an unfulfilled willingness to publish dramatic images and information graphics in meaningful and appropriate ways.
Raines addressed these concerns. “I did not bring strong photography to the paper, I just opened up space and gave a group of our journalists a voice in the process. I was surprised to hear from the photographers during my first meeting that they felt that they were not being given the chance to travel and contribute and that we used wire photos in their place.”
What Raines did not know was that Sept. 11, 2001, would be the catalyst for change. Raines has been quoted as saying that “the proper response” to the World Trade Center bombing “was that of disciplined professionalism, to tell the story, even though it was breaking your heart, as you told it.” And he made sure that photojournalists were an integral part of that storytelling. Post-Sept. 11, the paper launched a new section called “A Nation Challenged,” which showcased some of the most dramatic and informative photography of our era.
Suddenly The New York Times became a picture paper.
A visual paper with serious emphasis on photography and informational graphics is what The New York Times developed into under Raines’ reign, a paper that respected the voices of visual journalists on the team.
Raines made a bold and important move on March 31 when he named James O. Wilson to the position of Picture Editor.
Wilson is the first former NYT photographer and African American to be named to this important position, and Raines expressed “tremendous confidence in his abilities.” Said Raines, ”Jim is the logical candidate because he possesses that rare blend of his journalistic experience and management potential. He is a strong leader and man of great integrity, whom I have known since the early ’80s.”
Last month, O’Connor was also elevated to a new role, which she will assume upon return from a short sabbatical. O’Connor will be the paper’s Senior Editor for Visuals, a new position created with guidance from Raines and others. The broad role will be a kind of visual liaison to the web and NYT TV ventures.