Gerald Boyd Memoir Offers Professional, Life Lessons

Former managing editor of the New York Times Gerald M. Boyd was three years and two drafts into writing his memoir when he died of lung cancer at the age of 56 in November of 2006.

Robin D. Stone, Boyd’s widow, picked up where he left off by joining the two editions and filling in the gaps through interviewing friends, family and even Boyd’s boss from his first job as a grocery bagger in St. Louis.

Boyd was the first African-American ever named on the New York Times’ masthead. However, Boyd was forced to resign in the wake of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal in 2003, which left newsroom diversity initiatives and the qualifications of black reporters across the country in question.

The release of Boyd’s memoir, “My Times in Black and White: Race and Power at the New York Times,” is more than the story of his ascent and tumultuous fall from his post at the Times. It’s also a collection of lessons black professionals can use to navigate the workplace, which Stone said she is relieved to have seen through completion.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said before a discussion and signing event at the Howard University Bookstore Friday. “I’m very pleased that his story is told, and that he’s able to tell his truth as he saw it.”

Following the scandal, Boyd’s management style — along with that of the Times’ former executive editor, Howell Raines — came under fire, which led to the eventual resignation of both men.

Stone said a lot of people felt that racism is the reason Boyd’s career with the New York Times ended on such a sour note.

“It was assumed that he aided and abetted a person who was not up to standards because he was black, when that simply wasn’t the case,” said Stone, an independent journalist who has been an editor at several publications, including the Times, the Boston Globe, Essence and Health magazine. 

Boyd, whom Stone remembers as a compassionate, competitive and proud man, lost his mother when he was a toddler. His father left him to be raised by his grandmother years later and his sister was sent to California to be raised by another relative.

“I think beyond the journalism story and beyond the New York Times story,” Stone said, “this is a story of a man who was essentially searching for himself.”

Boyd’s nearly 400-page memoir has won the praise of Roland Martin, CNN analyst and host of “Washington Watch” on TV One, and Donald Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company.

Stone said a main challenge in finishing Boyd’s memoir was answering the lingering questions raised in the first two editions. To bridge the gaps, 20 contributors, including New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, step in to paint a more comprehensive picture of Boyd — in and out of the newsroom — at the opening of each chapter. 

Stone said that Boyd saw the New York Times as much more than a job and that his departure from the paper was torturous for him and almost equally difficult for her.

“It was a terrible time for our family but, you know, it brought us closer,” she said. 

Stone said Boyd’s memoir is still a success story despite the way his career at the New York Times ended. She said Boyd’s hopefulness and tenacity is what keeps his memoir interesting, and is also what eventually led him to his position at the Times after working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“He was very hopeful, even at the end,” said Stone, who wrote the afterward.

At the book signing, Phillip Dixon, chairman of Howard University’s journalism department, referred to the memoir when telling students to know distinctions between professional allies and enemies in the media industry and elsewhere.    

He said Boyd’s allies came and went, but his enemies were always close and in the end, no one who knew Boyd best felt compelled to defend him when the publisher decided to oust him. Stone agreed.

“He saw the people there as family, and it hurt him deeply when he realized that some people held racist assumptions about him,” she said. “You know, he thought they knew him when it became clear that they did not.”

Although things didn’t end for Boyd the way he would have hoped at the New York Times, Stone said in the early stages of shaping his memoir he made peace with his departure from the paper.

“People have to read the book to know the whole story,” she said, “Gerald saw himself as a Timesman and I don’t think he could have operated any other way.”

Stone will also sign books at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, at Busboys and Poets, 14th and V Streets Northwest.