Bill Keller, who has served as executive editor of the New York Times since he replaced short-term boss Howell Raines in 2003, is stepping down from his position. He'll be succeeded by Jill Abramson, whom he appointed as his managing editor at that same time. Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet will, in turn, replace her as managing editor. Last year Abramson took some time off to work on the paper's digital side, perhaps to prepare her for this more universal role. (Though at the time, a reporter asked Keller if that meant he would be retiring early, and he said no.) But Keller has been flexing his writing muscles more of late, penning a sometimes-controversial column for The New York Times Magazine, in which he expressed his views on politics and the media.
Keller may have launched the column to pave the way for this transition, or it may be that he got antsy once he remembered how much he enjoyed writing. Whatever the case, it's clear that he's had the itch for some time now: He also provided coverage from Iran and wrote up an account of the paper's interaction with WikiLeaks. In a 2009 Q&A with readers, he even admitted: "I spent 25 years as a reporter, swearing I would never become an editor. Sitting at a desk, watching other people go out and find the story, and then fussing with other people's words — I just didn't get the appeal of that."
According to Times media reporter Jeremy Peters, Keller will develop a column for the paper's new Sunday opinion section. The section, which will also feature Frank Bruni as an anchor columnist, will debut next month. It's as yet unclear whether Keller will continue his magazine column, which also comes out on Sundays.
Recent managing editors at the Times have tended to shift out every eight years or so: Joseph Lelyveld reigned from 1994 to 2001, and Max Frankel from 1986 to 1994. So the length of Keller's tenure feels about right. (The exception was Raines, who resigned from a two-year term after the Jayson Blair scandal.) Jill Abramson will be the first female executive editor in the paper's 160-year history. She said today that she considered getting the role to "ascending to Valhalla." "In my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion," she said. "If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth."