UC Berkeley journalism school hosts New York Times executive editor

Two men sit on chairs on a stage, one of them speaking to the audience, the other looking at the man who is speaking.
Samuel Albillo/Staff

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Hundreds of UC Berkeley students, faculty and aspiring journalists filled Sibley Auditorium on Friday to hear The New York Times’, or The Times’, executive editor Dean Baquet discuss modern journalism and the rapidly changing journalism industry with UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, or J-School, Dean Edward Wasserman.

The public conversation, hosted by the J-School, took place as a part of Baquet’s visit to campus to attend a J-School advisory board meeting.

Among Baquet’s accolades is a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, which he won in 1988 while leading a team of reporters for the Chicago Tribune who exposed corruption on the Chicago City Council. Later in his career, he became editor of the Los Angeles Times, from which he was fired in 2006 after publicly opposing plans to cut newsroom jobs. A few years after serving as managing editor for The Times, Baquet became the organization’s first Black executive editor, overseeing coverage ranging from the Donald Trump administration to global climate change.

At the event’s start, Wasserman welcomed Baquet, calling The Times “a reason for hope.”

During the conversation, Wasserman and Baquet reviewed The Times’ coverage of the 2016 presidential election and discussed the media outlet’s approach to 2020 presidential coverage. The conversation also included discussions on contemporary industry innovations and challenges, including changes in visual storytelling and the declining local journalism industry.

In response to Wasserman’s concern that 2016 presidential election coverage from The Times focused more heavily on Trump than other candidates, Baquet said it was a “mistake” to assume that Trump won because of press coverage.

“That answer denies that millions of Americans voted for him,” Baquet said at the event. “Trump won because there was something going on in the country that we didn’t understand and still probably don’t really understand.”

Baquet added that he does not strive to be the ”leader of the opposition” against Trump, but that the 2016 presidential election threw off the “rulebook” that journalists and newspapers abide by.

“Perhaps Donald Trump has not happened before, but incidents where newspapers have had to wrestle with this stuff has happened before,” Baquet said at the event.

Since Trump entered the daily cycle of coverage, Baquet said he now begins each year trying to decipher what other story can “stand up” to Trump coverage. In 2017, that story was coverage of the #MeToo movement, according to Baquet. In 2018, it was stories regarding questions raised about data mining and digital privacy in major corporations including Facebook and Google that dominated newsroom conversation.

Other specific coverage Baquet addressed included climate change and international coverage. Baquet agreed with Wasserman that The Times should do more to cover climate change, which he referenced as “the story of our time.” He added that since The Times is now increasingly read by an international community, it motivates Times reporters to be more “truthful” and “respectful” when reporting on international coverage.

Baquet added that The Times readers play an influential role in directing coverage, since a larger portion of revenue now comes from subscriptions than it had in the past. Baquet then asked audience members how many were subscribed to The Times — in response, nearly everyone in the auditorium raised their hands.

“I think that puts the right kind of pressure on me,” Baquet said at the event. “‘How do I create a newspaper that people want to read?’ That’s what the future is going to be for us …I like that.”

Rachel Barber is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.