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Former L.A. Times editor to fill N.Y. Times post

January 31, 2007|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

Former Los Angeles Times Editor Dean Baquet was named Washington bureau chief of the New York Times on Tuesday, which positions him as a leader at one of America's top newspapers while dashing hopes that he might return to the paper he left after protesting proposed staff cutbacks.

New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller joined Baquet in the Washington newsroom to announce the change Tuesday morning. Keller said current bureau chief Philip Taubman would assume the title of associate editor and become a reporter covering national security issues.

Baquet will officially take charge of the Washington office in March. He left the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 10 in a dispute with the paper's corporate bosses, who were pushing staff reductions that Baquet said would hurt the quality of the paper.

The editor's stand made him a hero among many journalists around the country, who viewed him as standing up for quality. But he angered his supervisors at Tribune Co., who considered him a grandstander, unwilling to work cooperatively with the company and its other newspapers.

Baquet, 50, served as editor of the Los Angeles Times for a little more than 15 months after about five years as the paper's managing editor. He helped lead a shift in resources to investigative reporting, and the paper won 13 Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure.

Baquet said the opportunity to return to the Los Angeles paper had grown dimmer as the auction of Tribune dragged on for more than four months.

"It became very clear nothing was going to happen in a period of time that would work for me," Baquet said. "And the idea of the New York Times became more and more comfortable to me."

Keller, 58, is not expected to leave his post any time soon, but Baquet's hiring was viewed inside the newspaper as positioning him as a leading contender to one day ascend to the editor's chair at the New York Times.

In a note to his staff, Keller said that Baquet had proved himself "a charismatic leader, an unflinching advocate of the value and values of journalism and a cool character under fire."

Baquet was part of a Chicago Tribune team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its expose of corruption at the Chicago City Council. He joined the New York Times in 1990 and rose to national editor before moving to the L.A. Times as managing editor in 2000.

New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and others at the paper had kept in close contact with Baquet since he left the newspaper, a courtship that intensified in recent months.

The editor made headlines in September when he joined then- L.A. Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson in opposing substantial cuts to the paper's newsroom staff of about 940. The tense relationship with Chicago executives had been exacerbated by disagreements over what he saw as a lack of promotion of The Times and pressure to run more stories from other Tribune papers.

Some inside the paper had hoped that Baquet might return if L.A. billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle succeeded in their bid to buy Tribune. And the magnates encouraged him to remain in Los Angeles, holding open the possibility that they might ask him to retake the editor's chair.

But as no clear end to the sale of Tribune appeared in sight, Baquet became increasingly restless. He told friends he wanted to be back in a newsroom.

"This is a chance to do what I like most," Baquet said, "to talk to reporters about stories and to get involved directly in coverage."

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