MEDIA

New York Times Shakes Up Washington Bureau As Elisabeth Bumiller Named Chief

The moves make official what's already been the reality in the newsroom.
Elisabeth Bumiller will take over from Carolyn Ryan as Washington bureau chief for The New York Times.
Elisabeth Bumiller will take over from Carolyn Ryan as Washington bureau chief for The New York Times.

NEW YORK -- The New York Times announced Tuesday that Elisabeth Bumiller, a veteran reporter and current Washington editor, will take over as Washington bureau chief -- one of the paper’s most prestigious posts. Carolyn Ryan, who was named bureau chief in late 2013, will transition to a new role as senior editor for politics.

In a staff memo, Executive Editor Dean Baquet said that the appointments "will enrich our coverage of the most compelling national political campaign in ages and the continuing story of the epic struggle surrounding President Obama's final months in Washington.” 

Though Ryan’s new role could be viewed as a demotion, the move both plays to her strengths and makes official what's already been the reality in the Times newsroom. In recent months, Ryan has been immersed in the 2016 campaign, overseeing political reporters in New York and Washington, while Bumiller was running the bureau day to day.

Ryan, a political junkie and highly competitive editor, has increased the paper’s metabolism when it comes to politics. She’s built a formidable team through internal moves and by bringing in star reporters, like Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman. The Times will add even “more reporters and resources” to election coverage, according to Tuesday's memo. 

In past election cycles, the Washington bureau chief typically delegated the daily election report to a political editor. But Ryan, who was political editor before she became bureau chief, has essentially continued in both roles.

That's created tension in the Washington bureau, as some saw Ryan as less engaged in other integral Washington beats, such as national security. Ryan also frequently travels to New York, where several of her political reporters are based, along with much of the paper's digital, mobile and graphics operations, all increasingly key components of 2016 coverage. 

The Times tried to remedy the situation earlier this year by having Bumiller take on many of the management functions of bureau chief, though without the title. 

In Tuesday's memo, Baquet noted that Bumiller, a former White House and Pentagon reporter, had recently overseen the paper’s coverage of “the Supreme Court's historic marriage decisions​ and the fight over climate change​ and the nuclear deal with Iran.”

Baquet announced the changes Tuesday, as the post-Labor Day election season kicked into high gear and Washington staffers, many who had been working remotely while the bureau was under construction, returned to newly renovated offices. 

The Times Washington shake-up is the second in less than two years. In November 2013, former Executive Editor Jill Abramson replaced David Leonhardt, a Pulitzer Prize-winning economics writer who had no management experience and didn't seem ideally suited for the job. Leonhardt has since launched The Upshot, a widely praised Times data-journalism venture more directly in his wheelhouse. 

Read Baquet’s full memo below:

All:

I am pleased to announce that Carolyn Ryan and Elisabeth Bumiller, two of our biggest editing talents, will take on appointments that will enrich our coverage of the most compelling national political campaign in ages and the continuing story of the epic struggle surrounding President Obama's final months in Washington.

Carolyn, who has split her time between the titles of political editor and Washington bureau chief, will now focus all of her attention on the campaign. Her appointment as a senior editor for politics is a testament to the remarkable job she has done running coverage as the campaign evolved into the story of more than 20 candidates, and billions of dollars. The complexity of the race is matched only by the complexity of covering it in the mobile age. Our political team has already broken big stories and made strides in different forms of digital storytelling. Now, as we add more reporters and resources, it is inescapable that running this hyper-competitive story has become a full​-time job.

Carolyn is experienced at running large staffs, both in Washington and as Metro editor. As an editor in New York she was one of the key players on one of the biggest stories in ​M​etro's history ---- the revelations that brought down Elliot Spitzer, which won The Times a Pulitzer Prize. I look forward to campaign coverage driven by Carolyn's creativity and dedication.

Elisabeth, who has covered the White House, the Pentagon, and virtually every important story in Washington, will become The Times's Washington bureau chief. Elisabeth has already proven her leadership over months as Washington editor, overseeing coverage of the Supreme Court's historic marriage decisions​ and the fight over climate change​ and the nuclear deal with Iran. And the final year and a half of Barack Obama's presidency and the transition to the next president promise to be equally eventful. Elisabeth comes to the job with broad experience working overseas, writing books and covering the life of Washington as a Post style writer. With her commanding knowledge and spirit, I am confident she will guide our stellar Washington bureau as it covers all aspects of this defining chapter.

Nothing makes me happier than placing hugely accomplished journalists in senior roles.

Carolyn and Elisabeth will each be making their own ​announcements of additional reporters and editing changes in the coming weeks. We will make whatever changes and additions it takes to continue these departments as powerful centers of news coverage, investigations and enterprise.

Dean

 

Update: The Times continued the reorganization of the bureau Wednesday by naming Bill Hamilton as Washington editor, the number two job under chief. Memo from Bumiller and Baquet below:

 
As we make changes in the Washington Bureau, we’re fortunate to have one of the finest groups of editors and reporters in the business. Now rejoining the group is Bill Hamilton, who becomes Washington Editor, the No. 2 position in the bureau. He will be working closely with Elisabeth in overseeing the full spectrum of the report.
 
Bill has the deep understanding and breadth of experience -- in politics, national security and domestic policy – that we need right now as the presidential campaign and Washington increasingly intersect. At The Times he has been the enterprise editor for the 2016 presidential race and before that led some of our strongest national security coverage. Bill was also political editor, national editor and assistant managing editor for enterprise at The Washington Post and a deputy managing editor at Politico.
 
With reporters in the bureau he has been a creative, subtle editor and the ultimate supporter of the collaborative journalism that is our hallmark. He has a serious sense of purpose but also a great sense of humor and the absurd. Not least, he is Washington Bureau royalty: He got his start as a clerk for James (Scotty) Reston.
 
Elisabeth and Dean

 

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