Dean Baquet at SXSW17 – liveblog

New York Times executive editor in conversation with Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg in Ballroom D at South By Southwest:


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Len Edgerly March 12, 201710:32 am

Jim Rutenberg: Are we really enemies of the American people.

Dean: Of course we are not the enemy of the people. I like this relationship we have with the president in a weird way. It should be tense, but it’s a dangerous comment. Regrettable.
Len Edgerly March 12, 201710:43 am

Jim: We said he had to be on the record on his visit to Times.

Dean: He wanted to talk off the record. I never did with Obama or Bush (meeting privately with editor). I think the NYT historically with the Post sets a certain agenda. He’s a New York guy and the Times means a lot to him.
I’ve had 3 meetings with Donald Trump. Covered a court hearing as a young reporter. He called me and said what a beautiful job I’d done. He’s a salesman.
Jim: We got heat after that for not being tougher on him.
Dean: We’re very tough on him. In last 2 weeks have run major stories on Russia, the background of a cabinet secretary. We’ve pounded away on the Russia stuff. A friend emailed: I understand why you have to cover him, but why do you have to put his picture on the front page.
Jim: Some say why are you even talking to his spokesmen.
Dean: I think it’s more important to cover it and call it false than to ignore it.
Jim: how often do we use the word “lie.’
Dean Lie is a powerful read. The first times was the birther issue. It had intent. It would have been bizarre to call it a false statement. You have to be careful. There has to be intent.
Len Edgerly March 12, 201710:47 am

Jim: Many say NYT has it in for Trump.

Dean: During the campaign I got more heat from the Clinton and Sanders campaigns than the Trump campaign. I’m not buying that we singled him out, unfair to him in the campaign. He was a candidate about whom nobody knew anything about his finances. A lot wasn’t known about him. We didn’t know what financial alliances might color his presidency. We put 10 people on it. That’s why we got a piece of his tax returns.
Jim: Real reporting takes money and people. Our business is going through such horrible change in economic model,
Dean: We clearly are going to have enough people, We have been hiring like crazy since the election, We are preparing for the story of a generation. The next two years are going to be an historic moment in the life of news organizations–economic realities of newspapers, most compelling political story, debate over what is a journalist. There will be 20 books written about the next 2 years in American journalism.
The New York Times will be a little bit smaller, but we will not cut our coverage of the President.
Len Edgerly March 12, 201710:53 am

Jim: When Trump hits theTimes, subscriptions go up. Can that stave off the cuts?

Dean: Advertising which sustained us is disappearing. But something amazing has happened. The rise in digital subscriptions, hundreds of thousands of people have subscribed digitally since the Election. That has changed our economics. At the end of it you will have a powerful way to cover Donald Trump.
Jim: New subscriptions don’t make up for loss of ads.
Dean: No, but they help.
Jim: Trumps victory clarified our mission.
Dean: Suddenly this thing happened. Our business model got shaky. We owned the world. You had to read us whether you liked us or not. Not just the Times Then you didn’t have to read us. Where do we fit into this scheme. Then comes election of a revolutioniing President. Mission clear: investigate government aggressively.
Night of election, I thought it is so clear what my life is going to be clear for the next few years,
Len Edgerly March 12, 201710:58 am

Dean: There has been an explosion in people who have access and can be true journalists. That’s the best thing that’s ever happened in history of journalism. Even if it hurts economics of newspapers. Not everyone fits my view of journalism, what it should be. Breitbart? No. Not in honorable pursuit of the truth. I look at them every day. Buzzfood, yes. You can do this from the left or right. Bill Kristol is a journalist. You have to be in some pursuit of the truth, honorably.

One thing we have started to do is be transparent. People assumed we were honorable. We were wrong. People don’t know an Aleppo dateline means we have a reporter there risking her life covering the war. It’s a secret language of print newspapers. We are going to let people know who the reporters are.
Jim: Great. [IMO Ruttenberg’s self-referential asides–worrying about covering his boss, getting fired, etc–detract from this conversation. Too cute by half.]
Len Edgerly March 12, 201711:08 am

Dean: People will know we are not fake news when they see photo of our reporter in war zone.

Jim: Everyone can see ratings of stories. Stories out of Syria and Iraq don’t get readership of Trump stories. Will that put pressure on less stories about Syria?
Dean: Nope. It’ll never keep us from covering this stuff. We never chase clicks. We want to be read. The mission is to make sure it’s read. I believe the New York Times and American press have an obligation to cover engagement around the world, But we need that stuff to be read.
Jim: We’re mental cases to begin with, anything that makes us crazier…. [Please, Dude. Spare us.]
Q: Regrets in campaign coverage?
Dean: We made mistakes. All of the American press misread how much anger there was in the country and how much desire for change. We did a series called Anxiety in America.We could have done much better with that. We created a meter on home page showing likelihood Hillary would win. It was an over-simplistic tool. That was simplistic.
Dean: Election day the Trump people were saying the only question was how he much would lose by.
Len Edgerly March 12, 201711:11 am

Dean: We need to get out in the country, surprise people by showing up where we’re not expectleed.

Jim: Does it mean hiring people from other parts of the country?
Dean: There’s not as much elitism. I grew up in a working poor neighborhood in New Orleans. Worked in family restaurant. It’s shocking that I am considered the leader of the elite media, especially to my family. The leadership of the Times lives in New York. We need to get out in the country more.
Len Edgerly March 12, 201711:14 am

Dean: We are taking every nuance of the health care bill. We dig deep. But when the President tweets, you have to cover them, test them. I don’t think anyone and sees graphics we’ve done on immigration doubts we have gone deep into his policies, as well as his tweets.

We don’t cover his frivolous tweets, about movies he likes. But when President accuses predecessor of wiretapping, that’s a big story.
Part of holding powerful people to account is when they say things in public, we have to investigate them, truth test them. To ignore them would be irresponsible.
Len Edgerly March 12, 201711:17 am

Democracy dies in darkness? It sounds like the next batman movie. Competition with Washington Post 20 percent of me hates us because they beat us sometimes. 80 percent loves it. I want as many jobs as possible is good. To have two great news organizations fighting it out is terrific. It mainly is those two news organizations, just for the record. If either one was not in the picture, it would be terrible. There are two news organizations is breaking the biggest stories. CNN and Wall Street Journal also do some.

Do you and Marty ever call and say “You got me on that one.” No. We have dinner sometimes, go to art galleries. We’re elite! (laughst)
Len Edgerly March 12, 201711:21 am

Dean: we put out 200 stories a day. Do I cringe sometimes. Sure. I don’t think we’re driven by clickbait. Newspapers are deeply flawed. 1300 people striving to put a news report every day on different platforms. Sometimes I see things in the paper I don’t like.

Jim: There is an art that’s dying. Headline writing. Done to get clicks.
Dean: Print headlines are different than digital. Print had architecture around them. Headline over photo of tank in Syria is not that important. Digital headlines have to do more work. They have to be snappier.
We do more timelines, chronologies,
Jim: Can I do my column tomorrow as a drawing? [Ugh]
? Will Trump be removed before the end of his term?
Dean: I have no idea.
Len Edgerly March 12, 201711:28 am

Dean: President is trying to reduce the credibility of independent institutions–courts, Congress, press. You counter it by blocking and tackling, making sure by continuing to report, to break stories and make yourself indispensable.

One of the most bizarre scenes was Gateway Pundit, a web site that advances conspiracy theories, has been given a seat in the press gallery. That’s ridiculous. Fight between them and Fox. Press briefings should be wide open. But that’s just not journalism.
Dean: The most criticism we got in the campaign was from Hillary people.
Len Edgerly March 12, 201711:32 am

My take: Dean Baquet does sound arrogant to me. He used that word several times, saying he didn’t mean to be arrogant. For my money, and I subscribe to both papers, The Washington Post is driving the story with a cleaner obsession with the truth, untainted by an exalted view of itself as an institution. They are both national treasures IMO.

Comments 1

  1. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Dean: When he does the tweets, it’s jarring. It does not influence our coverage. Enemy of the people is a historic term that implies an attitude toward us–hopefully not that he will do things.

    Jim: Do you worry news staff will get too emotional.

    Dean: My most important job is to make sure reporters hold onto their core. Our job is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump. It’s to cover the hell out of Donald Trump. Don’t let those tweets influence how you cover him. Cover the tweets, cover Trump. But our role is pretty clear now.

    Jim: Why the NYTimes. Let’s throw the Washington Post in there.

    Dean: The main reason we are better then everyone else (laughs).

    Trump’s family made its fortune in Queens, an outer borough. He came to Manhattan. He wanted to conquer the elite of New York. NY Times represents some of the elite of New York. I don’t like to think of it that way but a lot of people do. He wants our favor and gets hugely angry when he doesn’t get it.

    He summoned networks to Trump Tower. He came to us on the record.

    Posted 12 Mar 2017 at 10:37 am