Dean Baquet believes this is currently “a golden age of American journalism.”
“This is going to be looked back on, so don’t miss it,” he said. “It’s better than anything I’ve ever seen in my career, this is a world that didn’t exist before.”
Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times and 2017 recipient of the Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award, answered questions from students and faculty about changes in the journalism industry in the Temple Performing Arts Center on Friday morning.
David Boardman, the dean of Klein College of Media and Communication, opened the talk, naming the New York Times as “the most trusted and respected news source.”
“The most challenging and most exciting period in the paper’s history has highlighted the essential role of the press as the Fourth Estate and the responsibility that lies on the shoulders of the reporters at the New York Times,” Boardman said.
Baquet grew up in New Orleans and dropped out of Columbia University in 1978 to pursue journalism after “falling in love” with the profession at age 19. He won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting at the Chicago Times in 1984 and became executive editor of the Times in 2014.
In his speech, he recounted coverage of the Ebola outbreak in 2014 when reporters showed him video footage of those affected.
“On a human level, I felt a profound sadness,” Baquet said. “But I realized I could not have done this in my era of journalism. I profoundly believe journalism is better now and it will get better.”
Baquet said media is inherently polarizing in its current form and while it is difficult to be totally objective, “there is fairness of mind and the belief that inquiry trumps all.”
He added that the opinions President Donald Trump has expressed about the press are “destructive.”
To counter some of the negative perceptions of the media, Baquet said newspapers and other media should be more transparent about their processes and continue to pursue the truth.
“I think he wants to undermine the institutions that are, by their very nature and by law and custom, independent of him,” he said. “When we’re accurate and aggressive, we win.”
Baquet said “journalism is not in peril,” but there has been a significant shift in the media landscape.
According to the New York Times’ 2020 report published in January of this year, the publication now has more than 1.5 million digital-only subscribers, which is up from 1 million in 2016, and from zero six years ago. Print subscriptions also exceeded 1 million at the time of the report.
“The shift has been liberating because we’re now dependent on readers and not just advertisers,” he said. “Newspapers created things for advertisers and now we’re creating things for readers. I would rather be beholden to my readers and to serve them, that feels like my mission.”
However, Baquet said this effect is devastating for local papers.
“The most depressing thing that’s going to happen is that local newspapers are going to die like flies,” he said. “They’re still dependent on advertising for their revenue [and] they’ve cut themselves so much that they can’t go back into the market.”
Jacob Orledge, a senior political science major at the University of Delaware, attended the event after receiving a last-minute email from his professor and came away impressed.
Orledge is the investigative editor for The UD Review, University of Delaware’s student-run newspaper. He said he thinks Baquet has an interesting perspective on the current and future state of journalism.
“I thought he was very confident about the mainstream media surviving the technological changes that are coming at us,” Orledge said. “He gave us a lot of hope for journalism and if we keep striving for that objectivity, we will survive as journalists.”
David Mindich, who became the chair of the journalism department this summer, said he attended the event to hear Baquet’s thoughts on the future of the journalism industry.
“I’ve always respected him as a writer and an editor [and] I was even more impressed after having met him and listened to him about how thoughtful he is and how measured he is in talking about the New York Times and the political situation we’re living in,” he said.
For Baquet, advances in technology have caused exciting shifts in how journalism is produced. He said social media, artificial intelligence, podcasts and other forms of multimedia storytelling are the future of journalism.
He added that he’s amazed that The New York Times has a podcast team when, 10 years ago, he didn’t know what a podcast was.
“My greatest regret is that these dramatic changes are happening at the tail end of my career,” he said. “This is a profession that allowed me to see the world. My life has been richer than all of my friends and you’re all going to help to remake it.”