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The New York Times said Wednesday its executive editor Jill Abramson has stepped down and is being replaced by managing editor Dean Baquet, a sudden change that would install the paper's first African American newsroom leader.

The changes, effective immediately, come as a surprise for the rank and file and to company watchers.

The company didn't explain why Abramson stepped down. Widely respected for her journalistic skills, Abramson made history as the paper's first female editor when she was promoted to the job in 2011. But she also has a reputation for a hard-charging, and at times prickly, personality.

"I've loved my run at The Times," Abramson said in a statement. "I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism."

Baquet, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who previously worked as editor of The Los Angeles Times, has been managing editor at the Times since September 2011.

"There is no journalist in our newsroom or elsewhere better qualified to take on the responsibilities of executive editor at this time than Dean Baquet," said Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the publisher of The Times and chairman of The New York Times Company, in a statement. "He is an exceptional reporter and editor with impeccable news judgment who enjoys the confidence and support of his colleagues around the world and across the organization."

Sulzberger initially made the announcement to senior editors Wednesday afternoon, and addressed the full newsroom around 2:30 p.m., according to a report by The New York Times.

Ravi Somaiya, the Times' reporter who covers the media beat, tweeted that Sulzberger cited "an issue with management in the newsroom" as a reason for the change.

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