UPDATE 3-New York Times unexpectedly replaces top editor Abramson

Wed May 14, 2014 6:02pm EDT

(Adds details from meeting with staff)

By Jennifer Saba

NEW YORK May 14 (Reuters) - The New York Times Co on Wednesday abruptly ousted the newspaper's top editor, Jill Abramson, after less than three years in the job and named managing editor Dean Baquet to replace her.

Abramson, 60, was appointed The New York Times' first woman editor in 2011. Baquet, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter and former editor of the Los Angeles Times, will become the paper's first African-American editor.

The shakeup, described in the newspaper's online coverage as Abramson's dismissal, is the latest sign of turmoil at the family-controlled New York Times Co. It has been selling assets, cutting staff and looking for new revenue sources as print advertising revenue declines.

While its shares have stabilized and its latest quarterly earnings exceeded expectations, the Times' business model, like that of other newspapers, remains under pressure.

Sulzberger told stunned staff members on Wednesday the appointment of Baquet "would improve some aspects of the management of the newsroom," according to his remarks obtained by Reuters.

He did not elaborate on what those issues were but said they did not relate to the direction of the journalism or the paper's digital future.

"This is also not about any sort of disagreement between the newsroom and the business side over the critical principle of an independent newsroom," he said.

Abramson, who was not present at the meeting, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

'LOVED MY RUN,' ABRAMSON SAYS

Abramson said in a statement, "I've loved my run at The Times. I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism. Holding powerful institutions accountable is the mission of The Times and the hallmark of my time as executive editor, whether stories about China, government secrecy, or powerful figures and corporations."

Baquet is a popular editor among journalists and was hand-picked by Abramson to be her deputy when she ascended to the top.

After Sulzberger made his remarks announcing Baquet's promotion the newsroom responded with long applause, according to a source present at the meeting.

He is known among staff for defying management. While he was executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, owned by the Tribune Co, he was ordered by executives in Chicago headquarters to slash staff. Baquet refused and shortly after lost his job.

New York Times shares were down 4.9 percent in afternoon at $15.07, touching a session low after the announcement.

Abramson's predecessor, Bill Keller, served for eight years. He succeeded Howell Raines, who left in 2003 after less than two years in the post, following a plagiarism scandal involving reporter Jayson Blair.

The New York Times Co Chief Executive Officer Mark Thompson, who was appointed in 2012, said in a statement: "Jill has been a brilliant and supportive partner to me over the 18 months we've worked together. She is handing over to Dean a newsroom in superb form." (Reporting by Jennifer Saba in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Cynthia Osterman)