William G. Connolly, editor who updated The Times, dies at 85

William G. Connolly, who over a long career as an editor at The New York Times raised its journalistic standards, opened new opportunities for a more diverse range of employees, and in 1999 he parlayed that experience into a comprehensive overhaul of the paper’s venerable style. . guide, he died Tuesday in Maplewood, New Jersey. He was 85 years old.

His daughter Kathleen confirmed the death. She was in a rehab center recovering from a fall, she said.

After more than 20 years at The Times (minus a few in the early 1980s, when he left to work at a Virginia newspaper), Connolly was promoted in 1987 to a new senior position managing training. and recruitment.

In that role, he oversaw the paper’s ethical guidelines, brought in new faces from a broader pool of applicants, and took a critical look at the paper’s daily output with a newsletter he took over called “Winners and Sinners.”

He held his colleagues to high standards, but also entertained them with his dry wit and punctuation preferences; he especially loved the semicolon.

In short, he was a natural choice to join his friend and fellow editor Allan M. Siegal a decade later in the herculean task of revising the venerable “New York Times Manual of Style and Usage,” which had been in use for decades. not only within the newspaper but by hundreds of other publications and countless students and non-professional writers.

But the book had not been touched in decades, and its worn entries reflected a disappearing analog world dominated by white men.

Working in a disused radio studio in the newspaper’s former offices on West 43rd Street in Manhattan, Connolly and Siegal, an assistant editor, meticulously revised and rewrote the manual’s thousands of entries, expanding what had been a slim book to 365 pages, organized from A to Z.

Instead of dictating the terms used to define a group of people, they ruled that the newspaper should use the words those people preferred. They also ended a debate over whether it was ever acceptable to use certain racial slurs, even in quotes (no).

Mr Connolly was particularly bothered by the old manual’s use of a single English male name, John Manley, in all its examples. He replaced them with a long list of surnames, all of which mean “Lamb” in different languages: Cordero (Spanish), Agneau (French), and Kikondoo (Swahili), among others.

“I followed them on a spreadsheet,” Merrill Perlman, a former Times editor who helped Connolly on the book, said in a telephone interview. “I didn’t want to abuse them.”

Manley, once ubiquitous throughout the manual, survived in only one place: the obituaries entry.

William Gerard Connolly Jr. was born on October 12, 1937 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His father worked for the U.S. Post Office and his mother, Loretto (Blewitt) Connolly, was a teacher.

He studied philosophy and English at the University of Scranton, graduating in 1959, and then joined the US Army. He spent three years as a newscaster and disc jockey for Armed Forces Radio from its offices in New York City.

While he remained in New York, he worked as a copy boy at The Times while studying for a master’s degree at Columbia University’s journalism school. After graduating in 1963, she worked briefly at a long list of newspapers, including The Minneapolis Tribune, The Houston Chronicle and The Detroit Free Press, before returning to The Times in 1966.

He married Clair Connor in 1964. She died in 2013. Along with his daughter, he is survived by his sons, William G. Connolly III; Harold Connolly; three grandchildren; and his sister, Sister Jane Marie Connolly.

Although he wrote a good number of news articles, Mr. Connolly was primarily an editor, with publications in the foreign section, The New York Times Magazine, the real estate section and the metropolitan section. He was also the founding editor of the Science Times section.

He left in 1979 to become editor-in-chief of The Virginia Pilot, in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1981, he began teaching for the Maynard Institutewho ran a summer program in Tucson, Arizona, that trained journalists of color for jobs as proofreaders.

By the mid-1980s, The Times was coming under both public and internal criticism for its dull editorial style and lack of diversity in its staff and coverage, and Mr. Connolly, with his particular combination of management experience and inside knowledge of the Times culture, was a logical candidate to begin changing that.

He returned as assistant editor on the national section and then as deputy editor of The Week in Review section, although in both positions he was given the additional mission of helping to open the paper to a broader group of employees.

After his promotion to senior management in 1987, he created the news department’s first management training program. And he brought in a new generation of editors, not only more racially diverse, but also from a broader variety of backgrounds and experiences.

His work with Mr. Siegal to revise the stylebook was his last major project at The Times before he retired, although he continued to consult on future revisions, which kept their names as authors.

“This manual reflects The Times’ impression of its educated and sophisticated readers: traditional but not bound by tradition,” they wrote in their introduction. “At all times, the aim is a fluid style, relaxed but jargon-free and only occasionally colloquial.”