Margaret M. Sullivan today was named editor of The Buffalo News, the first woman and only the sixth person to serve in that position since the newspaper's founding in 1880.
Buffalo News Publisher and President Stanford Lipsey said Ms. Sullivan, who has been The News managing editor for the past 19 months, was clearly the right person for the editor's position. He noted that a lengthy nationwide search for a managing editor in 1997 found the best person -- Ms. Sullivan -- was already at The News.
Ms. Sullivan, 42, a Lackawanna native with degrees from Georgetown University and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, takes over Sept. 20 upon the retirement of Murray B. Light, whose 50-year career at The News included three decades as its editor.
"While there's no question about the impact that Murray has had on The Buffalo News and our community, I'm excited about Margaret's putting her own stamp on The News," Lipsey said. "She has big shoes to fill, but she has the vision, the character and the drive to succeed."
"I have no doubt," Light commented, "that Margaret Sullivan will do a fine job in leading the newsroom staff into the next century. She has performed exceptionally well in each assignment she has been given since joining The News. She brings to the job the intelligence, judgment and people skills needed to be a very successful editor."
Ms. Sullivan -- believed to be the youngest woman editor of a major newspaper in the country -- said she is both thrilled and challenged by the appointment.
"It's a rare opportunity to be the editor of your hometown paper and to be able to lead this paper at a very critical time for newspapers," she said.
Ms. Sullivan brings both a hard-news and features background to the job. Since she took over as managing editor in January 1998, her tenure has been marked by an emphasis on enterprise stories that go beyond the headlines.
"Our bread and butter is serious, aggressive, local reporting," she said. "We are still a mass medium, so we have to do everything well, from sports to movies to the weather; but where we prove ourselves and make ourselves indispensable is in our deep coverage of local news."
After earning a master's in journalism with distinction from Medill in 1980, Ms. Sullivan was an intern reporter at The News and so impressed Light that he hired her immediately, making a rare departure from a policy that requires several years' experience at a daily paper.
She spent seven years as a business writer, government reporter, news-feature writer and columnist before becoming an assistant city editor in 1987. Two years later, she was named assistant managing editor and led the revamping of what is now called the Life & Arts section.
Ms. Sullivan was the New York Times stringer in Buffalo for five years during the 1980s and spent six weeks in Calcutta, India, in 1987 as part of the Rotary Foundation's program for international understanding.
It was her time as a reporter covering Erie County government -- when her investigative work helped uncover causes of a $100 million fiscal crisis that nearly bankrupted the county -- that gives her the most pride as a newswoman. "I've always been impressed by what newspapers can do well: tell an inspiring story, go deep into an issue, uncover wrongdoing, keep government and business honest, give a voice to people who are silenced by their poverty or just by their smallness in the grand scheme of things," she said. "A newspaper story can make us laugh. Certainly, it can make us feel and think.
"I believe in the power, even sometimes the beauty, of the words and images on the printed page."
Ms. Sullivan grew up on Ridge Road in the heart of Lackawanna, a short distance from City Hall, where her father, John, an attorney practicing in Buffalo, was the School Board attorney, and just down the street from the family's parish, Our Lady of Victory Basilica.
Her brother David is a lawyer and counsel to the State Senate president in Massachusetts, and her other brother, Philip, is a cardiologist at Buffalo General Hospital. Her father and mother, the former Elaine Saab, who met playing tennis on the old clay courts at South Park, are both deceased. She has continued her parents' love of tennis and has made the finals of the city's Muny tournament for the past three years; she won the Class C singles championship last weekend.
Ms. Sullivan graduated from Nardin Academy, where she was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and captain of the basketball team.
She said readers may not notice drastic changes in The News as she takes over, but they should expect an emphasis on compelling presentation and excellent local reporting -- especially on those subjects that matter most to their lives.
"My goal is for The Buffalo News to be the best regional newspaper in the country," she said.
Ms. Sullivan, who lives in Buffalo, is married to Charles Anzalone, editor of The News First Sunday Magazine. They have two children, Alex, 11, and Grace, 6, who are pupils at St. Mark's School.