In a sudden move Thursday morning, the New York Times announced executive editor Bill Keller is stepping down from the post he's held since 2003 to become a full-time writer at the paper.
Keller, who as of Sept. 6 becomes a contributor to the Times Magazine and the soon-to-be revamped Sunday news and commentary section, will be replaced by Jill Abramson, the Times' managing editor since 2003. Abramson will be the first female to top the masthead in the paper's 160-year history. Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet, meanwhile, will move into Abramson's role.
"Bill came to me several weeks ago and told me that he felt the time had come for him to step down from the role of executive editor," said Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in a statement. "I accepted his decision with mixed emotions."
Sulzberger addressed the Times newsroom Thursday morning in a town-hall-style gathering to deliver news of the shakeup. Speaking through a microphone, he said, "Jill, this is your time."
According to a Times staffer, Keller fought back tears in his comments before the staff, saying he would miss the newsroom.
While the move came as a surprise to many, it may not have been entirely unexpected. Keller has been making waves since he began writing a column for the redesigned magazine earlier this year, and would have had to step down in another three years when he turns 65 per the Times' age-limit on executive editors.
In an interview with one of his own media reporters, Keller was sanguine about his successors.
"Jill and Dean together is a powerful team," he said. "Jill's been my partner in keeping The Times strong through years of tumult. At her right hand she will have someone who ran a great American newspaper, and ran it through tough times. That's a valuable skill to have."
As for Abramson, "I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the editorial direction of The New York Times," she said in a statement. "It's a dream job for any journalist and one that I am deeply honored to be asked to serve in."
And that direction could be digitally driven. With Keller's blessing, Abramson took five months off as managing editor last year to "focus on digital operations and strategy."
(Abramson photo via AP; Keller via the New York Times)