The New Yorker Interviews New York Times Editor Dean Baquet: “I worry that we’re in an era where people don’t fully respect the power of reporting”

From a New Yorker interview by Clare Malone of New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet headlined “Dean Baquet Never Wanted to Be an Editor”:

When Dean Baquet took over as the executive editor of the Times, in 2014—the first Black editor to fill the role—the paper, like so many around the country, faced layoffs and an uncertain future. Baquet is widely expected to step down this year, at the age of sixty-five, per company tradition. He will leave not just a thriving newspaper but a burgeoning media empire.

During his eight years at the helm, the paper won more than a dozen Pulitzer Prizes, the number of newsroom staff members increased from thirteen hundred to two thousand, and subscriptions soared. With increased revenues, the Times made forays into TV, podcasts, product reviews, and games. In the past two years alone, it bought Serial Productions, for twenty-five million dollars; the Athletic, a sports site, for five hundred and fifty million dollars; and the viral game Wordle, for an undisclosed sum in the low seven figures. “I think it’s a better news organization, as well as a more successful news business, than when I came in,” Baquet said. “I will take some credit for that.”

None of this is half bad for a college dropout. Baquet grew up in New Orleans, where his family owned a popular restaurant, Eddie’s. He started his reporting career at the age of nineteen, after three years at Columbia University. “I couldn’t go back to college,” he said in a 2020 interview. “I had found my life’s work and college felt boring.” His first jobs in journalism were in his home town, first at the New Orleans States-Item and then at the Times-Picayune. At thirty-one, he won a Pulitzer Prize, for his work on a six-month Chicago Tribune investigation into influence-peddling on the Chicago City Council. His brother Terry also received journalism’s top award, at the Times-Picayune, in 2006, for his part in the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina. “I’ve got two boys with two Pulitzers,” Myrtle Baquet said that year. “Not many mothers can say that.”

Baquet insists that he was forced into becoming an editor. He joined the New York Times in 1990, as a Metro reporter, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer four years later, but the executive editor at the time, Joseph Lelyveld, asked him to move onto the editing track. Although he eventually acclimated to the job, he has always maintained that it was the “reporter instinct” that drove him. After a decade in New York, he left for the Los Angeles Times, where he served as the managing editor and later the executive editor. He was fired after a clash with the paper’s owners over mass layoffs. Baquet went back to the New York Times in 2007, first as the Washington bureau chief and then as the managing editor under Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor. Their tense relationship was well documented in the press—and later in Abramson’s book. When Abramson was fired, Baquet was chosen as her replacement….

In my conversation with Baquet, he seemed both reflective and defiant; one gets a sense of a man, at the twilight of his career, trying to protect his institution—not only the Times but journalism more broadly. “I think every generation thinks about these issues in a different way,” he told me. “My job is to try to convince my newsroom that they should not be overly influenced by criticism from Twitter, and that they shouldn’t be afraid of taking on subjects that are edgy and complicated. That they should report those subjects independently and fairly, and if Twitter doesn’t like it Twitter can jump in the lake.”

You won a Pulitzer in 1988, for investigative reporting, and your brother Terry won one in 2006. What was it about the Baquet household that made it so ripe for the Pulitzer committee?

I think we were encouraged to be ambitious. We did not come from a wealthy family, by any stretch. We grew up in a pretty modest house. When I was a kid, we lived in the back of the family restaurant. But you were pretty much encouraged to think big, to think ambitiously. And so, as a journalist—and I think Terry felt the same way—we thought ambitiously. We thought we could do anything we wanted to do. Even if, from outward appearances, the odds didn’t make that clear.

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