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Gerald M. Boyd Dies

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Only African American to Rise to No. 2 at N.Y. Times

Gerald M. Boyd, the only black journalist to rise to the highest newsroom ranks at the New York Times, died Thursday at his New York home after battling lung cancer, his wife, journalist Robin D. Stone, told Journal-isms.

 

 

 

"He was at home with his family," she said.

Boyd, 56, stepped down as managing editor on June 5, 2003, with the paper's executive editor, Howell Raines, in the wake of the scandal involving Jayson Blair, the reporter whose extensive fabrications "laid bare deep discontent within the staff over their leadership," as the Times reported at the time.

His wife said Boyd "should be remembered for his contributions to journalism, to the people who worked in the field, to diversity in journalism and to humanity."

At home today with Boyd were their son, Zachary, who is 10, Boyd's brother, Gary Boyd, his sister-in-law, Andrea Boyd, and his friend from his Times days, former Times reporter Bernard Weinraub, who flew in from Los Angeles, Stone said.

She said her husband had been ill for much of the year.

"All he wanted was to be the best newsman that he could be, and he was that at the time of the Jayson Blair fiasco," photographer Fred Sweets told Journal-isms. "I go back to his days as a copy boy at the [St. Louis] Post-Dispatch, when he was on a Post-Dispatch scholarship at the University of Missouri, and I was a photographer" at the paper.

Paul Delaney, who was a senior editor at the Times, told Journal-isms: "From the moment we met, in 1975, when he was a reporter in St. Louis and I was a reporter with The Times, it was clear that he was an ambitious and talented journalist who would go to the top. Print journalism was in his veins. He lived it like few others. He was already missed in the field, and now this. The void has not been filled."

Boyd joined the Times in 1983, after 10 years at the St. Louis paper. He was a national political correspondent and White House correspondent during the Reagan and Bush administrations, as the Times reported when he was promoted to managing editor.

"I'm not about to dwell on the firstness of all of this," Boyd said then, "but if somewhere a kid of color who reads about this can smile tomorrow or dream a little bigger dream, then that makes me very happy."

Boyd was named special assistant to the managing editor in 1991, then briefly held posts as a top editor in the newspaper's Washington bureau and on its national and metropolitan desks. He was metropolitan editor, then was named an assistant managing editor in 1993 and deputy managing editor for news in 1997, the Times said.

Boyd was a senior editor of The Times' "How Race is Lived in America" series, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

After his resignation, Boyd addressed the National Association of Black Journalists, which had named him Journalist of the Year in 2001, and he used the occasion to blast media portrayals of himself as Blair's mentor and protector. Like Boyd, Blair is African American, and it was reported that the two frequently took cigarette breaks together.

"I was not the black managing editor, I was the managing editor," Boyd said.

"While I have been proud of my heritage as an African American, no one can peg me as some racial revolutionary," Boyd said in a half-hour address in Dallas.

In fact, Boyd told the in-house Siegal Committee investigating the Blair scandal: "Philosophically, I have never bought into the concept of mentoring. . . . I didn't feel I should take people under my wing and move them up the ladder. I incurred some criticism from journalists of color who felt I was not looking out for them. My view was that it was competitive and a matter of merit."

When the scandal broke, staff resentment at both Raines and Boyd hastened their resignations.

"Raines centralized power. Only two editors—Boyd and Andrew Rosenthal (son of Abe), whom Raines had named his number three—seemed to matter. Both had once been well liked, but now they adopted their boss's ways, and much less skillfully," David Margolick wrote in the August 2003 issue of Vanity Fair.

"'They had no bedside manner,' one editor says. 'They were contemptuous, dismissive, sarcastic.' . . . . The Wall Street Journal reported one instance in which a story was proposed to Boyd, who then insisted a similar piece had appeared in that morning's USA Today. After a meeting in which investigations editor Douglas Frantz handed him a copy of the paper to show that it hadn't, Boyd accused Frantz of publicly humiliating him and handed him a quarter. 'Call your friend Dean (Baquet at the Los Angeles Times for a new job),' he said. Frantz did."

Boyd told NABJ that he would never leave journalism, and all but confessed that the Times remained in his blood. He noted that he met his wife at the newspaper, and told the audience that when he informed Zachary, then 6, that he would no longer be working at the Times, "I thought he would never stop crying. He parroted what I had told him, that the Times was not just a newspaper, but a public trust."

In 2000, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted Boyd's 10 years at that paper.

"Before going off to Washington, Boyd covered City Hall, consumer affairs and housing here; he even had a stint in 'Siberia,' working nights. He was also a founding member of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists. At Mizzou, he and Sheila Rule formed Blackout, a minority-run newspaper on the campus. They started Blackout because the student paper, Maneater, had no black staffers," the story by John M. McGuire noted. He and Rule later married.

"He still speaks proudly of his news feature on the last families to leave the Pruitt-Igoe housing development, once a self-contained city of 12,000 people living in 33 high-rise buildings on the northern edge of downtown. The project ended as a dismal failure. The implosion in 1972 of the first building to go made international news. After the last residents moved out in 1974, final demolition from 1975-77 was via headache ball.

"'Only a few persons noticed the overloaded, aged pickup truck as it moved away from the make-do loading dock, along the glass-cluttered sidewalk into the near-deserted street,' Boyd's lead sentence read.

"'I stayed up all night Friday writing that story and was so proud when I picked up the paper that Sunday morning and saw my name, my first front-page story,' Boyd said."

In one of his many honors, Boyd was ushered into the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists' Hall of Fame in 2003.

After leaving the Times, he briefly wrote a syndicated column about the news media for Universal Press Syndicate, signed a deal to work on his memoirs, and did consultant work. He was scheduled to head a project at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism to integrate real-world case studies into its curriculum, but Nicholas Lemann, dean of the journalism school, said this year that Boyd was unable to continue on the project, and it proceeded without him. Boyd said little publicly this year, apparently tending to the illness few knew about.

"I made a point of staying out of the news," he told Journal-isms in June.

 

 

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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