Carolyn Ryan ‘86 Promoted to Managing Editor of The New York Times

Though she recalls the field as one she “stumbled” into, looking at her career, it is clear that Carolyn Ryan ‘86 was made for journalism. 

Recently promoted to managing editor of The New York Times, Ryan’s foray into the profession started at The Bates Student, where she covered roommate drama, theater performances and other happenings on campus.

The Student had the opportunity to sit down with Ryan to discuss her time at Bates and some of the highlights of her career, which have included a stint as deputy managing editor of The Boston Globe and a series of positions at The Times

Ryan vividly remembers her first tour of Bates. She visited with a friend from high school and recalled that they were immediately struck by Bates’ warmth, small size, beauty and “sense that Bates was a place that was going to nurture us as well rounded people.”

“It just moved to the top of my list really quickly, certainly ahead of Colby,” she quipped.

In her first year, Ryan played varsity tennis and did not expect she would join the staff of The Student. During her sophomore year, however, Ryan quit the team and started committing more of her time to be on the newspaper’s staff. 

“I kind of fell in love with The Student,” she said. “I thought the kids who were involved in The Student, they were just the people I really looked up to.”

A core memory from that year was an assignment to cover “roommate conflicts and controversies and idiosyncrasies.” Ryan embarked on a series of interviews around campus with her classmates, and recalled “there was a little bit…when maybe students weren’t really thinking that they were all going to be on the record, so they started talking about their roommates in a very vivid way, sometimes in a very funny way.”

She continued, “Of course I wrote it all down, and it became part of the story. I remember people were a little bit startled to see it all in print, and it was kind of a big story at the time.”

Ryan also fondly recalled an interview she conducted with a student on election night at the infamous Blue Goose bar in Lewiston, watching the Reagan versus Mondale presidential election results come in.

“We’re talking and drinking and I was interviewing her, but at the time, the television was on and you could see the map turning red, and it was sort of this atmospheric story,” she said.

Besides just the beginnings of her journalism career, Ryan remembers her time at Bates very positively. Her first-year seminar about civil rights, taught by Dean Emeritus of the College James W. Carignan ‘61, made an especially profound impression on her.

“The size of the class meant that we could really have meaningful discussions about things that really resonated with us as young people,” she said. “I remember, you know, you see a lot of movies and you sort of wonder what your freshman experience will be like, and you just think of massive lecture halls and really formidable, intimidating professors. And it was just the opposite of that.”

She said that Carignan “showed interest in us and encouraged us to engage with the material and engage, you know, with the curriculum in a way that he almost saw us as peers and thinkers.”

Ryan credits Bates for giving her “a confidence that you can intellectually engage with challenging subjects,” something that has helped in her storied career.

After college, it was a Bates connection that further helped propel Ryan into the professional journalism industry. Brian McGrory ‘84, then a young reporter and now the editor of The Boston Globe, encouraged her to start freelancing where he worked at The Patriot Ledger.

“I just found it so thrilling, [so] exhilarating, and it was just a passport to the world, it felt like it opened up the world to me, and I felt like Bates really prepared me for it because Bates is one of those schools that I don’t feel like has relaxed its academic standards,” she said. “You really have to learn how to write and express yourself, and to do so clearly. I was never a poet, but I was a very clear writer, and I think that really helped me become a journalist in the real world.”

After stints at The Patriot Ledger and The Boston Globe, Ryan moved to The Times in 2007, serving many different roles including metropolitan editor, senior editor for politics, and masthead editor. After serving as a deputy managing editor since 2020, Ryan was promoted this April to be one of the newspaper’s managing editors. 

When she officially begins her new role at The Times on June 14, Ryan’s day will start with a news meeting, where she and other editors talk about the “priority stories of the day.”

“Right now it’s Ukraine, it’s going to be the midterm elections [and] it’s still COVID-19, both in the U.S. and the world,” she said. “We’re really discussing what kinds of stories do we want to generate for the day? How do we want to cover them?”

Currently, she said, The Times staff, which is nearing 2,000 journalists, is working on balancing live coverage, deeper investigative stories, videos, and podcasts. 

“We’re really looking [at] how we engage an increasingly global readership in the most important stories of the day,” she said. “We also want to delight people and open up the world to them. So we’re writing about theater and movies, books and sports in ways that are unexpected, surprising, engaging.”

In her new role Ryan, who will be the first openly gay journalist to serve as managing editor of The Times, is hoping to continue to push the newspaper to be “essential” to young people as well as maintain her commitment to adding more diversity, equity and inclusion into The Times’ newsroom.

Ryan explained that, like other legacy institutions, The Times previously had a culture that “was a little bit outdated and difficult to navigate, especially for people of color.” She recalled there was a sense of an “Ivy League network.”

“Part of what I did, with the support of the leadership, was to really look for promising and talented journalists from places that we didn’t always look before,” she said. “So that meant schools that we didn’t always visit.”

Over the last several years, Ryan has been on a team that has helped hire about 400 new journalists, especially focusing on bringing in new staffers from digital outlets that have skills “to push us in different ways.” 

“[You] have to make sure that once you bring those folks in,” Ryan added, “you’re listening to them and you’re including them and you’re nurturing their careers and their advancement.”

From Lewiston to New York, Ryan’s writing continues to be influential to the field of journalism as a whole. Though she may have “stumbled” into writing for The Student, she looks back on her time at Bates, and on the staff of the newspaper, fondly.

“What I really enjoyed was the writing,” she said. “What I really took away from it was kind of a community of people who were part of The Student – I felt like they were really engaged with the world and engaged with issues in a really interesting way.”