To survive in today’s fast-paced news cycle, media organizations have to be nimble enough to cover breaking news and current events while also digging deep with investigative reporting, providing perspective with think pieces and keeping a finger on the pulse of pop culture. And they have to do it for an audience with an ever-shrinking attention span. “It’s a balance,” notes Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times.
And a high-visibility one at that. Nitro-Net spoke with Baquet the day the paper printed an exposé reporting that the Trump family had skirted federal tax laws. Hours before the conversation, President Trump called the article “old,” “boring” and “often told”—and, of course, said the publication itself was “failing”—but did not say that any of it was factually inaccurate.
“It is an ambitious, solid, deeply reported story that’s backed up by a lot of documents, and I think that there’s not a whole lot he can say about it,” says Baquet, who calls covering the Trump administration the “story of a lifetime.”
While Trump-related news often dominates the Times’ front page, the publication is just as dogged about a wide range of other topics—from climate change and the lasting hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, to Silicon Valley and the New York art scene. The Times’ coverage of sexual abuse allegations against prominent men, including Harvey Weinstein, earned it a Pulitzer, jointly, with Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker and sparked the #MeToo movement. Much of its transformative reporting was documented in Showtime’s four-part documentary series, The Fourth Estate.
“What we have to offer to the world is not just coverage of news,” Baquet says. “That’s important, but what we also have to offer to the world is a whole broad array of coverage. What you just have to do is discipline yourself to keep an eye on those things.”
And subscribers are responding. The New York Times reported 3.8 million total subscriptions at the end of the second quarter, 2.9 million of whom were digital only. At the same time last year, the publication had a total of 3.3 million subscribers, 2.3 million of whom were digital only.
The publication is also reaching a whole new audience with The Daily, a news podcast that has racked up more than 5 million monthly unique listeners since launching in January 2017.
Baquet has been intent on bringing the publication (now more than 150 years old) into the digital era, offering buyouts, eliminating the newsroom’s stand-alone copy desk and pushing print and digital editors to work across platforms. The cuts rocked the newsroom, and more than 400 staffers walked out to protest the decision last summer. But Baquet held firm that change was “deliberate, fair and necessary.”
“We’re making a big adjustment to the way we produce our journalism amid one of the busiest and most challenging news cycles any of us can remember,” he and managing editor Joe Kahn told the staff. “We’re making some difficult choices about our current spending in order to free up the resources we need to remain the world’s indispensable news organization in the future.”
Baquet has been at the helm of the Times since 2014, after serving as the paper’s managing editor and Washington bureau chief. Before that, he was managing editor, then editor, of the Los Angeles Times. Born in New Orleans in 1956, he got his start at his hometown newspaper, The States-Item, which merged with The Times-Picayune, and worked his way up. In 1984, he joined the Chicago Tribune, where he won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting in 1988.
He also has a number of firsts to his credit—Baquet is the first African American and the first investigative reporter to become executive editor of the Times. He manages the Times in an increasingly challenging era for newsrooms, both because of the decline of print and the undermining of the media by President Trump—and his clarity of purpose is part of what makes him our Editor of the Year.
“I think we have a special responsibility to do very ambitious work that maybe other institutions don’t have the power or the size or scope to do. And I take that responsibility very, very seriously,” Baquet says. “I have to make sure we don’t lose sight of that role. It’s a responsibility to be The New York Times.”
Check out all of this year’s honorees: