A black woman takes the helm of the Buffalo newspaper as the city still mourns the racist supermarket massacre that shocked the city this year just as its economy and population showed signs of recovery from decades of economic decline.
A Gannett Newspapers executive, Sheila Rayam, 55, has been named executive editor of The Buffalo News, the paper announced Tuesday. She is the first black journalist and the second woman to hold the position in the newspaper’s 142-year history. Lee Enterprises purchased The News in 2020 from its former owner, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
“I went to college in Buffalo, and I’ve always considered the city my second home,” Ms. Rayam said of the city in western New York, perhaps best known in the rest of the country for its division-winning NFL. team, their headline-grabbing snowfall records and, of course, their wings.
Ms. Rayam said she was excited to be working in a veteran newsroom with a “strong reputation for great journalism.” Her appointment, effective Aug. 22, followed the retirement of Mike Connelly, a veteran journalist who was editor of The News for a decade.
It also came months after the May 14 mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly black neighborhood of East Buffalo. An 18-year-old white gunman who espoused a white supremacist ideology has been charged in the shooting, which left 10 dead and three wounded, nearly all of them black, in one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history.
The attack has left the city reeling.
“Looking from afar, I was heartbroken,” Ms. Rayam said, adding that the city was still recovering. “But I am hopeful that we will be part of a discussion that helps the community grow together and become stronger.”
In her new role as executive editor, Ms. Rayam said, she planned to continue running the paper to cover the entire city. “We are going to look at everything from food insecurity to public safety and how residents support each other.”
The News, with a print circulation of about 56,000, is among the largest in the state outside the New York City area, but like many other midsize regional newspapers, it was devastated by the pandemic and had to impose pay cuts and license staff.
Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist for The Washington Post, who was also The News’s first female senior editor before a stint as public editor of The New York Times, described The News as a “dominant force” that continued to provide a service essential and vigilant public. journalism.
“I was certainly thrilled to see that Sheila’s appointment would make history,” Ms. Sullivan said in an interview. “It’s good to see.”
In the announcement, Tom Wiley, president and publisher of The Buffalo News, said he was proud to have Ms. Rayam as its eighth editor and would help lead the organization “into an exciting future.” Currently, Ms. Rayam, who is from Rochester, about 70 miles northeast of Buffalo, is the executive editor for Gannett’s Mohawk Valley news operations, including The Utica Observer-Dispatch and The Times Telegram in Herkimer.
He has also worked at The Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, and is a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Ms Rayam said she was looking forward to working with journalists who were “passionate about serving their community; about telling great stories.”
And, she said, she was excited to be closer to the Buffalo Bills. “I’m a huge Bills fan.”