Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times and chairman of The New York Times Company, announced Keller’s promotion to the highest-ranking position in the newsroom.
“Bill is a talented journalist, an accomplished manager and a trusted leader,” Sulzberger said in a press statement.
“I am grateful that Bill has accepted this new challenge and am confident that in the years to come, he will help us build on The Times’s unparalleled tradition of journalistic excellence,” the publisher added.
Keller, 54, had been an Op-Ed columnist for The Times. Previously he served as the newspaper’s managing editor and foreign editor and as its bureau chief in Moscow and Johannesburg. In 1989, Keller won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Soviet Union.
“I’m honored and exhilarated by the opportunity to lead the finest assembly of journalists in the world,” Keller said in a statement.
“This news organization is a national treasure. I will do everything in my power to uphold its high standards, preserve its integrity and build on its achievements,” Keller added.
Keller officially assumes the top post on July 30.
He succeeds Joseph Lelyveld, a former executive editor who emerged from retirement to step in as the paper’s interim executive editor on June 5. Lelyveld is expected to stay on in an advisory role, The New York Times reported.
Sulzberger asked Lelyveld to take on the executive editorship temporarily following the resignations of then-executive editor Howell Raines. Both Raines, who held that position for 21 months, and managing editor Gerald Boyd left the paper amid a damaging plagiarism scandal.
Their resignations came five weeks after the disclosure that former reporter Jayson Blair had fabricated and plagiarized dozens of stories. The plagiarism scandal sparked a firestorm of staff criticism regarding Boyd’s and Raines’s management style. Staffers accused Boyd and Raines of cultivating a work atmosphere that allowed Blair, deemed one of Raines’s “favorites,” to be promoted despite his error-filled reporting record.
Newsroom morale sank even lower when The New York Times conceded that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg, a reporter close to Raines, relied heavily on the reporting of an uncredited freelance journalist for an article about oystermen in Apalachicola, Florida. Bragg resigned on May 28.
Boyd’s replacement has yet to be announced. Keller said he plans to evaluate the organization of the newsroom’s top leadership and announce additional members of his team in the coming weeks.
Described by co-workers as soft-spoken, Keller’s management approach appears to contrast significantly from that of Raines, who once admitted that his staff “view [him] as inaccessible and arrogant.”
Keller had been a top candidate to succeed Lelyveld as executive editor when Lelyveld stepped down in Sept. 2001. Keller had been the Times’s managing editor, the second-highest newsroom position, since 1997. However, Sulzberger appointed Raines to the top position. Shortly thereafter, Keller became a columnist for the Times’s Op-ed page and a senior writer of The New York Times magazine.
Keller first joined The New York Times as a correspondent in its Washington bureau in 1984, and was a correspondent in Moscow from 1986 to 1991, serving as the newspaper’s bureau chief there in 1989. He then worked as bureau chief in South Africa from 1992 to 1995 when Lelyveld promoted him foreign editor.
As the paper’s executive editor, Keller faces the challenge of rebuilding newsroom morale and confidence in the paper’s editorial integrity that eroded after the Blair scandal.
In the wake of the scandal, The New York Times organized a committee of staff members and three other journalists to examine its newsroom practices and management policies. The committee is expected to report its findings to the publisher later this month.