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Sun Jun 02 2002 11:37:02 ET

"I've been in journalistic contests where I was up against real formidable opposition," Howell Raines, the executive editor of the New York Times, tells Ken Auletta in "The Howell Doctrine," in the June 10, 2002, issue of The New Yorker.

"If I'm in a gunfight, I don't want to die with any bullets in my pistol. I want to shoot every one." Raines's arrival in the Times' factory-size newsroom last September, just days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the intensity of his commitment to what he calls raising "the competitive metabolism of the paper," Auletta reports, "has excited and occasionally alarmed the inhabitants of the world's most powerful newsroom, who often ask if this son of hill-country Alabamans is comfortable leading a newspaper staffed by Ivy Leaguers.

Raines has already made a large number of changes, shifting reporters around the globe, and changing the way editorial planning is done to ensure that he and other "masthead" editors have a greater role in shaping the daily paper. A Washington friend of Raines's says, "Howell and his people are making the mistake everyone makes. They have this new toy and they are arrogant."

Raines also plans other specific changes, Auletta reports: "In April, he appointed Patrick Tyler chief correspondent in Washington, and he has told people he trusts that he plans to promote [current bureau chief] Jill Abramson to a masthead or major department post [in New York], and then to name Tyler bureau chief."

Raines also reveals other potential plans: he expects to appoint Adam Nagourney national political correspondent; he wants to return to the days of a separate Sunday theatre critic; and he will soon hire a new Weekend editor from inside the paper, and is looking inside as well as outside for a new Arts & Leisure editor, Auletta writes.

Raines has worked for the Times for twenty-four years, in Atlanta, Washington, London, and as the editorial-page editor of the paper. "I just like the tribal culture of a newsroom," he explains. In 1986, Auletta reports, when Raines was considering whether to accept the job of London bureau chief after not getting the same job in Washington because of a lack of foreign experience, R. W. (Johnny) Apple, Jr., who had been chief in London for ten years, told Raines that not only could he "write about anything" and move freely around Europe but there was also, as Auletta writes, "another, social advantage: the Sulzberger family passed through London regularly." Raines is "a man of intense, if not always acknowledged, ambition," Apple tells Auletta. In 1994, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., chose Joseph Lelyveld to be the next executive editor. In 2001, after Lelyveld told Sulzberger, Jr., that he planned to retire, the publisher chose Raines over his major competitor, Lelyveld's managing editor, Bill Keller. "I chose Howell in the end because I decided we needed a new pair of eyes," Sulzberger says. "Joe really made Bill his partner. That's a good thing. And while Bill did lay out a vision for what the newsroom would be under him -- and how it would differ -- I thought the time was right for a different step."

Raines says, "Change always takes people out of their comfort zone. I'm not rattled by the friction of the moment. You have to set your sights on a beacon that is a journalistic ideal, and it's important not to get knocked off course by those winds of criticism."

The June 10, 2002, issue of The New Yorker goes on sale at newsstands Monday.


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