Last week, when the Los Angeles Times’ preternaturally sunny editor Dean Baquet announced to his staff that his standoff with the paper’s owner, the Tribune Company, had ended with his firing, it marked not only the end of one of the strangest public feuds in the history of American journalism but perhaps put to rest the last remnants of the Howell Raines era at the New York Times. Six years ago, with Raines’s ascension to the top job imminent, then–national editor Baquet pulled a Joan Didion–“Goodbye to All That” move to join the L.A. Times as the deputy to new editor John Carroll. Others from the mother ship would follow, including “Styles” czar John Montorio, Michalene Busico, Rick Flaste, investigative editor Doug Frantz, Seattle bureau chief Sam Howe Verhovek, and Atlanta bureau chief Kevin Sack (who co-won a Pulitzer for his new bosses in 2003). “I think people were drawn to the fact that it was a paper that was building,” Baquet said. “There were possibilities to invent new kinds of jobs, and it wasn’t set in its ways.” Plus, no Raines. Within a year of Baquet’s departure, Raines had traumatized his national staff, established his star system (Rick Bragg, Jayson Blair), and run the paper with his own inner circle.
The good times in L.A. weren’t to last. Carroll stepped down last year, largely over cutbacks at the paper. New York began poaching from L.A. again (Michael Cieply, Nicolai Ouroussoff). Baquet took over for Carroll but couldn’t keep his job and his principles. As for the migration, “there was a period in the lifetime of the New York Times where people wanted to work somewhere else,” says Baquet, who wouldn’t comment on his plans. “That period is now gone.” Meanwhile, L.A. Times staffers are left to read about impending layoffs and how Ron Burkle and David Geffen want to buy the paper, which has become a hotter story than it is a place to go to work.