Effective immediately, managing editor Dean Baquet will become executive editor of the New York Times, replacing Jill Abramson, the first woman ever to occupy the position. (Reuters)

New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson is “unexpectedly” leaving her post after leading the paper for 2 1/2 years, the Times reported this afternoon.

Senior editors at the newspaper were informed of the news at a 2 p.m. meeting, according to Politico reporter Dylan Byers. Her replacement, Managing Editor Dean Baquet, addressed the newsroom about 30 minutes later, according to posts to Twitter from Times journalists. Baquet is the first African-American executive editor of the New York Times.

Abramson has served as the paper’s first female executive editor, a tenure that has received no small amount of scrutiny. A story in Politico last year said that she was on the “verge” of losing newsroom support. Though Abramson indeed alienated some co-workers with her management style, she also presided over the newspaper at a time of massive change: There were buyouts, a masthead trimming, a move toward video storytelling, just to name a few.

Stormy times aside, the move caught not only a universe of media watchers by surprise, but also the New York Times. In a spot news piece on the development, New York Times reporter Ravi Somaiya wrote, “The reasons for the switch were not immediately clear.”

Jeff Zeleny, an ABC News Senior Washington Correspondent who left the New York Times under Abramson’s reign, tweeted:

Abramson had this to say in a statement: “I’ve loved my run at The Times. I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism. Holding powerful institutions accountable is the mission of The Times and the hallmark of my time as executive editor, whether stories about China, government secrecy, or powerful figures and corporations.”

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times, said this about Baquet: “There is no journalist in our newsroom or elsewhere better qualified to take on the responsibilities of executive editor at this time than Dean Baquet. He is an exceptional reporter and editor with impeccable news judgment who enjoys the confidence and support of his colleagues around the world and across the organization.”

The news was tightly held within the gossipy confines of the Times newsroom. It was only after the meeting among top editors had convened that the New York Times communications department informed the paper’s own reporters that a management change was underway, according to a source at the paper. That was about a half-hour before the official announcement.

That the news took staffers by surprise surfaced on Twitter:

 

Bill Keller preceded Abramson as executive editor and served for eight years in the position. In a very brief chat with the Erik Wemple Blog this afternoon, Keller said he’s following the news “just like you.”  “These are two people who are really good friends of mine. I don’t know what happened. I’m sad for Jill and hope for the best for Dean.” Keller now serves as editor of the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news site on criminal justice.

Before catching on with the Marshall Project, Keller served as a columnist for the paper — just the sort of emeritus role that top newsroom leaders often slide into after running the beast for a number of years. Abramson, however, isn’t doing any such thing. She is out the door.  “She’s left the Times,” says New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy. “She’s not here.” Murphy declined to comment on whether the clean break was the decision of Abramson, Sulzberger or a mutual thing.

Such arrangements would have been a good question for New York Times staffers to pose to Sulzberger, who addressed the newsroom at a 2:30 p.m. all-staff get-together. But Sulzberger didn’t take questions, as Murphy confirms. The newsroom is a sprawling place. “It’s not the appropriate forum for question-taking,” says Murphy.

Here’s the text of Sulzberger’s remarks to the newsroom:

Thank you all for gathering here on such short notice. 

 
We are announcing right now, as we speak that Dean Baquet is our new executive editor.
  
So before I go further, let me take a moment to celebrate Dean.  He is, without question, one of our finest.  He spent a good part of his career with us in the 90s, first as an investigative reporter and later as our national editor before leaving for the LA Times, where he rather famously – heroically even – took a stand for maintaining a robust newsroom – a position that ended up costing him his job as executive editor.
 
Their loss was our gain as he returned in 2007 as Washington bureau chief before Jill named him managing editor almost three years ago. 
 
It is my great honor today to appoint Dean as our new executive editor.
 
I will come back to Dean in a moment and you will hear from him as well.  But first, let me try to answer a question that I am sure is on all your minds.  What happened with Jill?  Why this change?
 
I’ll start by saying what this is not about. 
 
It is not about the quality of our journalism, which in my mind has never been better. 
 
Jill did an outstanding job in preserving and extending the level of excellence of our news report during her time as executive editor and, before that, as managing editor and Washington bureau chief.  She’s an accomplished journalist who contributed mightily to our reputation as the world’s most important news provider. 
 
Further, this is not about any disagreement over the direction of our digital future or any of the steps we have taken recently to create and launch new digital products and services.
 
Jill and I agreed fundamentally about the need to embrace new platforms and new expressions of our journalism.  She helped a great deal in moving The Times further into our digital future.  She was an enthusiastic supporter of The UpShot, NYTNow, our soon-to-debut Cooking app and NYT5, among many other items in development.
 
 This is also not about any sort of disagreement between the newsroom and the business side over the critical principle of an independent newsroom. 
 
While we are all working more collaboratively, there is no one in the leadership of this Company – from me and Mark on down – who disagrees with the idea that our newsroom must remain independent with editorial decisions resting with the executive editor.
 
Rather, I choose to appoint a new leader for our newsroom because I believe that new leadership will improve some aspects of the management of the newsroom.
 
You will understand that there is nothing more I am going to say about this, but I want to assure all of you that there is nothing more at issue here.
 
 We’re in a terrific position to move forward.  Both Jill and Dean were closely involved in the work of our newsroom innovation team over the past six months and Dean and I are in agreement that we need to proceed on many of their recommendations to best position us for future success.  I am entirely confident that Dean – along with all of you – will build upon that foundation.
  
Now, let’s turn this back to Dean.  A nicer guy, you will not find, but that isn’t what brought him to this point. 
 
Bill Keller once said of Dean that he possesses “infectious enthusiasm and aggressive intelligence.”   I agree. 
 
Combine that with a passion for journalism, investigative and otherwise; a fierce loyalty to the editors and reporters he leads; and a competitive spirit that inspires all around him to do better.   That’s Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times.

Dean Baquet’s remarks to the newsroom:

May 14, 2014

It is humbling to be asked to lead the only newsroom in the country that is actually better than it was a generation ago, a newsroom that approaches the world with wonder and ambition every day.

A newsroom that exposes a bad cop and gets two people out of jail. A newsroom that breaks stories about the actions of government spies on the same day it crashes an elegant book review.

A newsroom where Adam Nossiter visits a village in Africa to capture the grief of
mothers whose daughters have been stolen.

A newsroom that produces photography reminiscent of the old Life magazine. A newsroom that can publish something as knockout-beautiful as T, on the same day it chronicles upheaval in the Ukraine.

A newsroom that produces a print and web report of great style and design. A newsroom that decided it should do video, and went out and won awards for it.

A newsroom that is reinventing the journalism of precision with the Upshot and is already rebuilding itself for the mobile world.

There are too many people for me to thank for this 40-year career, too many people who helped support a young black southerner whose parents had only grade-school educations and who became addicted to newspapers through the daily accounts of the ups and downs – mostly downs – of the fledgling New Orleans Saints.

But let me thank a few people.

First and foremost, there is Arthur Sulzburger, who is most responsible for preserving this newsroom. Before I came back to the Times eight years ago, I fought with my heart and my soul to protect another newsroom that I loved. So I treasure the opportunity to work with a great publisher who understands we are more than a business and who values an independent-minded editor with a history of pushing back.

I owe Jill Abramson a tremendous amount. She made me her partner for three years and taught me the value of great ambition and what she always called the great backstory. I will miss her. She made the paper better, which is the greatest testament one can pay to any editor.

I am indebted to Janet Elder, who secretly runs the joint, and to a masthead Jill and I built together and that I will call upon to help me guide the paper.

I am indebted to Joe Lelyveld, who taught me to put the paper first, and to John Carroll, who taught me that great editors can be humane. They are the two greatest editors of a generation.

I would like to thank Andy Rosenthal, who believe it or not edited my last investigative story – the story of Hillary Clinton’s fortuitous commodities trade — and who has been a great friend across the divide.

I’d also like to thank Dylan Landis. It helps to have a writer in the house, one who has taught me there is sometimes more to learn from great fiction.

Mostly I thank the journalists of The New York Times – the reporters, editors, copy editors, producers, designers, photographers, videographers and graphics artists – who make this the greatest news operation in history.

Arthur, Bill, Jill and John Geddes propelled us toward a digital future. But we still have much work to do. As you know, a committee of the newsroom’s brightest came back with many recommendations for maximizing our digital report. I embrace those recommendations fully, and bringing them to fruition will be one of our primary goals of the year.

But tucked inside that report was one great lesson that we should never forget – our journalism rocks. Our job is to make sure everybody gets a chance to see it.

At this point there is no secret to the kinds of stories I love. I spent my career as an investigative reporter, so I value the hardest-hitting work.

Scoops reign. So in an age when readers have more freedom to pick and choose, we have to be first. But just as valuable is the fresh thought from Adam Liptak or James Stewart or Andrew Sorkin.

Lest you think that means a future of only hard news, know that nothing distinguishes The Times more than its critics, and its feature and culture sections.

Nothing lifts our pages like a Kimmelman, Kakutani, Cotter, Smith, Garner, or Maslin review. Or a Vogel-Flynn scoop on the art world. And rebuilding our Sunday magazine will be one of the great joys of our year.

Of course we will announce some changes in the coming weeks. But for now
I’d like to leave you with a few promises. I will listen hard. I will be hands-on,
engaged, will walk the room. That’s the only way I know how to edit.

Let’s take risks, and not beat each other up when we fail. Let’s work together, but not get paralyzed by guessing what Dean or anyone else wants. Give it a shot. We will commit big ambitious journalism every day. And we will have an absolute
utter unadulterated blast while doing it.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.