Passing the Baton
| American Journalism Review
| From AJR, October 1999|
Passing the Baton
Murry Light retires as the Buffalo News' editor, and Margaret
Sullivan steps up to fill his job.
By Kimberly Marselas
Kimberly Marselas is a former AJR editorial assistant
Murray B. Light had already been working at the Buffalo News for eight years when Margaret M. Sullivan was born. A mere 42 years later, Light retires as the paper's editor, with Sullivan stepping up to take his post.
"Fifty years is one hell of a long time, and running the newsroom operation for 30 years is a hell of a long time," Light says. He ends his tenure 50 years to the day he started as a reporter--September 19, 1949.
Sullivan, the News' former managing editor, is only the sixth editor in the paper's 119-year history. When she was chosen almost two years ago to be ME, it was with the expectation that she'd succeed Light, who became the paper's managing editor, then the top slot, in 1969.
"I've been mentoring her for the past couple years," Light says.
He was the one who hired Sullivan in 1980, offering her a reporting job after she interned at the News, a 234,857-circulation paper owned by stock market investor extraordinaire Warren Buffett. She never left. There are now 14 women who hold the top editing positions at the country's 100 largest dailies. Sullivan, at 42, is one of the youngest.
She knows she has some big shoes to fill. "Murray is a real institution at this newspaper and in Buffalo," Sullivan says.
It wasn't that--in half a century--Light never had opportunities to work elsewhere. He just didn't want to. He received offers from the Hartford Courant and the Atlantic City Press, among others, he says.
Light, 73 this month, won't exactly be signing off: He'll write a new Sunday column focusing on everything from local to international issues. The longtime editor says he'll try to avoid second-guessing the institution he ran for so long.
"I'll do my damnedest to discipline myself and not comment on the paper," says Light. "I just don't think it would be fair to Margaret."
As for Sullivan, she says she will emphasize local enterprise reporting during her regime. "That's what I think regional papers have to excel at to survive in this new media world," she says.
And her efforts will be watched closely. "I will continue to be an avid reader of my paper," says Light. "You just don't give up lifelong habits."
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