Former New York Times editor Howell Raines speaks at UF


Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:37 p.m.

A former executive editor of the New York Times fielded questions about reporting on Sept. 11 and managing a plagiarism scandal during a talk at the University of Florida on Monday.

Howell Raines, who is now a contributing editor at Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, spoke before about 50 people about his career in journalism at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.

Journalism Master Lecturer Mike Foley interviewed Raines for the free and public event, which reunited the men who worked together during the late 1970s at the St. Petersburg Times.

“Howell taught me many things when we worked together,” said Foley during opening comments.

Raines recounted stepping into the role of executive editor of The New York Times six days before the Sept. 11 attacks, saying playing a role in reporting such a historic event looms large in his career.

“Being a part of producing that paper is the peak experience of my professional life,” he said.

The work of gathering New Yorkers’ stories in the days after led reporters to tears, he said.

He added that putting together a daily newspaper is an intricate and complicated process.

“It’s like watching a Maserati being put together,” he said.

Foley asked Raines to discuss the Jayson Blair scandal, in which a Times reporter was found to have plagiarized and fabricated national stories.

Raines said his immediate response was to have reporters report the Jayson Blair story for the sake of the paper.

“I assigned them to investigate every aspect of the Jayson Blair episode,” he said.

The scandal cost Raines his job, he said, adding that some people criticized his leadership style, suggesting that he pushed reporters too hard, creating an environment in which the Blair scandal could happen.

Raines said the Blair story also showed him the immediacy of the current news cycle, in which any kind of media outlet can publish quickly without giving subjects a chance to respond.

Raines said much was written about him that he could never get a chance to respond to.

“You can never catch up with the first burst of information,” he said. “You’ll only contribute to the clatter.”

Raines also talked about the future of print journalism in an increasingly digital world.

“It’s a public service that’s not succeeding in the marketplace,” he said.

“Quality journalism is expensive to make.”

He said young journalists should prepare for more digital-based job markets in the coming years.

UF journalism freshman Samantha Schuyler later said that Raines, who will speak to journalism students today, was well-spoken about his love of the field.

“I think he cares a lot about the craft of journalism,” she said.

Raines, now primarily a fiction writer whose love of fishing has been well-documented in his work, said that at 70 years old, he still thinks it’s important to find new hobbies. Recently, he’s become interested in watercolor painting.

“I’ve always dabbled in it,” he said. “Now I’m trying to become an expert in it.”

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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