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Spring 2005: 40 Yearsfred conrad/new york times
Editor, New York Times “Week in Review”
B.A. Politics, Kresge College, 1974
From pundits to presidents, regular readers of the New York Times rely on the paper’s Sunday “Week in Review” section to tell them what they need to know.
One of the most influential publications in journalism, the section provides context for the week’s top stories, combining insight and analysis with fine writing on topics from politics and religion to science and the symphony.
In short, section editor Katy Roberts shoulders the burden of sifting through mountains of news and information so we don’t have to. “Keeping up with the news used to be relatively easy. Now it’s impossible,” Roberts says with typical candor. “Accepting that is the only way to survive.”
Roberts’ self-effacing manner belies her achievements: During more than 20 years at the Times, she has held several positions, including a two-year stint as national editor and five years as editor of the op-ed page. She believes her greatest impact was on the op-ed page, where she brought in voices “outside the Eastern Establishment” and sped up the page’s responsiveness to events.
“I’m not a producer of ideas, but an enthusiastic consumer of them,” says Roberts. “I learned to question conventional wisdom and authority, wherever it was vested.”
After graduating from UCSC, Roberts earned a master’s degree in journalism and Russian area studies from Indiana University. Although she says she got “abysmal grades” in her journalism classes, Roberts picked up some reporting experience and landed a job at the Hayward (CA) Daily Review in 1977. By 1979, she had moved to the Minneapolis Star, where she was a columnist and deputy opinion-page editor. Three years later, she was recruited by the Times.
In a field where learning never stops, Roberts says her liberal arts background has been an asset. She has had to become an expert in space shuttle technology, New York City taxis, Nicaraguan dynasties, immigrant health care, and forest fire policy, among other topics.
“I did my undergraduate work at Santa Cruz, and my graduate work at the ‘Week in Review,’” says Roberts. “It’s a continuing education.”
Roberts lives in Manhattan with her husband and has been known to watch surfing documentaries when she’s not reading the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Review of Books, or the New Yorker.
Asked about her worst day in journalism, Roberts describes the morning of September 11, 2001, when, as national editor, she got a call at home from the office. Stepping outside her Greenwich Village apartment, she saw one tower, then another, on fire. Heading to the office on foot, she kept looking over her shoulder as the tragedy unfolded.
Inside the newsroom, however, the scene was “awe-inspiring as the paper’s staff went to work.” Sixteen hours later, she and a reporter trooped to the only subway that was running. They stood alone on the dead-quiet platform, waiting for the downtown train.
“The paper is criticized from every quarter, and sometimes we make mistakes,” says Roberts. “But you’d be hard-pressed to find a more honest, dedicated, thoughtful group of people on earth.”