New York Magazine on the Future of the New York Times: “It had become the paper of the resistance. Can it again be the paper of record?”

The concluding grafs of a New York magazine story by Reeves Wiedeman headlined “Times Change: In the Trump years, the New York Times became less dispassionate and more crusading, sparking a raw debate over the paper’s future”:

In June, during a town hall shortly after the Cotton op-ed, Sulzberger objected to a question from a Times employee about what the paper would do once Baquet was gone and the Times no longer had the shield from criticism that comes with having a Black journalist at the top of its masthead. Both the institutionalists and insurrectionists like and respect Baquet, but both sides were quick to point to the fact that his presence had helped the Times stave off some criticism, in much the same way that Obama’s presidency seemed to convince some portion of America that racism no longer existed. “I don’t think it’s insignificant that we have a Black leader who is a traditionalist,” one prominent white Times reporter told me, of Baquet’s ability to appease both sides.

Per Times tradition, Baquet is expected to retire in 2022, when he will be 66, and it is impossible to talk to a Times employee without the subject of his eventual replacement coming up. Until this spring, three people were considered serious candidates: Joe Kahn, one of Baquet’s top deputies; Cliff Levy, who runs the “Metro” section; and Bennet, who is no longer an option. Kahn and Levy are well regarded but classically Timesian in temperament and background — East Coast raised, white, Ivy League — and it was now unclear if they represented the future. Ryan, who was recently promoted, would be only the second woman in the job and is leading some of the paper’s diversification efforts. Marc Lacey, the “National” editor, is Black and well liked, but he is just as journalistically conservative as his peers. An irony for those looking to add more voice and perspective to their journalism is the fact that the person most inclined to pursue that vision of the Times may have been Bennet.

All of this is guesswork, and Sulzberger, for his part, has expressed little interest in pushing Baquet out the door, according to people who have spoken with the publisher about it. If Baquet sticks around beyond his Times-mandated expiration date, the paper could consider an even wider slate of candidates. “Could Dean hang on long enough to skip over that next generation?” one Times reporter said. “If you’re the queen of England, you skip over your son and give it to your grandson. There’s a potential these princes could be passed over.”

Whoever leads the paper will preside over a media juggernaut forced to look in the rearview mirror at what the Trump era has done to it, and consider where it goes from here. Trump has been a unifying force for the institutionalists and insurrectionists, both of whom object to his assaults on American democracy. The issues being punted until after the election, from diversity to the future of the “Opinion” section, will need to be resolved. The paper is “working on guidance” for Dargis’s question about what #newsroom-feedback should be — good news, because the Times doesn’t expect to have employees back together in a physical newsroom before the Fourth of July holiday next summer. A member of the “Standards” desk was recently promoted to a new position, “director of journalism practices and principles,” meant to help translate the newsroom’s mysterious ways for the non-journalists now supporting their work.

Many people inside the paper think some of its problems could be resolved by bringing back the public-editor position that was discarded just as the Trump administration began. But when I asked Liz Spayd, the last person to have the job, whether she thought reinstating it would make much difference, she wasn’t so sure. “There’s clear benefits to having someone with free rein to report inside the building and to speak for the public,” Spayd said. “But does that translate into the Times listening to that and taking action? Clearly not.”

Change does not come swiftly to the Times. Readers were distressed to wake up on Election Day and find out that the paper was bringing back its infamous needle, and the days that followed were filled with recriminations about how the Times had kept readers in a bubble — never mind that the warnings about the shifting Cuban vote in Florida and the lengthy vote-tabulating process ahead were there in the news pages for anyone who had taken the time to look there, rather than feeding themselves another dose of their favorite “Opinion” columnist. The paper attracted more readers to its website than ever before. As its journalists got to the task of narrating the end-stage of the most extraordinary period of American history in living memory, Joe Biden was promising to bring the two Americas back together. The Times had become the paper of the resistance, whether or not it wanted the distinction. The months ahead will determine whether it can again become the paper of record.

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