Former NYTimes biz editor dies; launched 1st standalone biz section
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Former New York Times business editor John M. Lee died Tuesday in Connecticut due to complications resulting from surgery.
In 1978, under the direction of Lee, the Times started Business Day, considered the first standalone business section of a mainstream metro daily. The move by one of the nation’s most well-respected newspapers started a business journalism arms race in which virtually every major newspaper would add a business section.
In 1980, he led an overhaul of the paper’s Sunday business section.
Lee also had a nurturing management style that launched the careers of a number of prominent journalists and business journalists. His hires included Andy Pollack, David Sanger, Todd Purdum, Dick Stevenson, Nick Kristof, John Crudele, Steve Prokesch, John Markoff and dozens of others.
“John was one of the natural aristocrats of journalism,” said Diana Henriques, a senior financial writer at the Times. “The phrase on every lip here in the newsroom today is ‘a true gentleman.’ And he really was — always calm, always courtly. But such a newsman! He read every line of our section, down to the legal notices, and he was known for alerting a reporter about some odd detail he had noticed in a company’s agate earnings report. But he was equally a master of the broad brush, the important trends. He relished economic news the way some folks enjoy sports.”
Henriques said she remembered the nice touch that Lee had with his reporters.
“As a colleague just recalled to me, ‘He was the master of the small touch’ — the brief handwritten note that made you feel so special, so valued,” she said.
When Henriques’ mother died, Lee had left the business department. But when she returned to the newsroom, she found a note on her desk.Â “In his lucid and elegant script, John offered his sympathy, in just a line or two,” she said. “I still have the note.”
Lee became the Times business editor in 1976, and he remained in that position until 1985, when he became assistant to the executive editor. In that spot, Lee dealt withÂ budgets, personnel, career development, minority recruitment, technology and organization of new Times magazines and sections.
He was replaced as business editor by Fred Andrews. Lee was later an assistant managing editor at the Times.
In 1993, Lee became director of editorial development for The New York Times Co.’s 31Â regional newspapers.
Lee joined the business/financial news staff in New York in 1972. Before that, in 1971 and 1972, he was chief of The Times’s bureau in Tokyo. He served as a correspondent in The Times’s London bureau, from 1967 to 1971, and in Canada, from 1964 to 1967. He joined The Times in 1961 as a business news reporter from The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, where he was business editor.
Lee was born in Williston, S.C., and graduated magna cum laude from Duke University. He spent four years in the U.S. Air Force and earned an M.S. degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.