It may feel like animosity toward the media is at an all-time high, but the head of The New York Times newsroom says it’s nothing new. What has changed, according to Dean Baquet, is technology.
“People hated their newspapers in 1959, I promise you, but they still needed to know whether or not to get an umbrella,” Baquet said, speaking Tuesday at a Seattle Arts & Lectures event in Seattle.
In the past two decades, digital platforms have taken over the role of disseminating information which was traditionally handled by newspapers.
Baquet says that’s why the news has never felt more controversial or blood-boiling:
The newspaper, when I first started in journalism, it provided 10 things to you in much of the history of America. Of those 10 things, eight weren’t controversial at all. It told you whether you needed an umbrella. It told you whether your local team won and how they won. It told you whether your high school team won. It told you whether the stock market went up or down. It let you know if you wanted to buy a truck, where to buy a truck. Those eight or nine things got taken away by the changes in technology, leaving us with the stuff that pisses people off.
Baquet sat down with prolific Seattle writer Timothy Egan and NBC News’ Jim Rainey for a wide-ranging discussion on the state of media at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall. Washington Post editor Marty Baron was originally scheduled to attend with Baquet, but needed to cancel due to illness.
Technology was an inescapable topic, from how news consumption has changed to the role of social media in journalism. Continue reading for highlights from Baquet’s comments.
On his news diet: “I read The New York Times on the phone and The Washington Post on the phone before I go to bed and then I scurry through a lot of websites that didn’t exist when I started. I have a look at BuzzFeed and see if they’ve done anything interesting. I look at The Guardian to see if they’ve done anything interesting, particularly internationally, which obviously you couldn’t have done when I started. You now get, if you sign up for them, tons of newsletters and a lot of newsletters — whether it’s Mike Allen’s newsletter or other political newsletters that drive your day — they’re almost like a collection of little newspapers and that’s how you start the day. One thing that I will add that’s different than the era of print, I just described a morning but actually, you do this throughout the day. The news is no longer scheduled by morning and by night.”
On Facebook: “I use to be active on Facebook. I’m not at all anymore. To be frank I find it dominated by the same voices and I find some of it toxic.”
“We’re at a moment in society where there is a full-bodied understanding or realization that these platforms have a tremendous amount of power and that we’ve given them a lot of information and a lot of power, more than we understood probably … we also got a lot in exchange and I think we’re in the middle of a very important debate — and like all important debates we should have had it five years ago — which is are we willing to give up the things we gave up and give them the power they have now and in exchange for the benefits that we got? I think that’s a very sober and compelling debate and I don’t have the answer.”
On journalists who tweet: “This is controversial in my newsroom. On my side of the house, the news side of house, I don’t think journalists should tweet their opinions and I don’t think they should tweet anything they could not say in the news pages of the Times. But I think that you should be connected to the readers. You should be in touch with the readers. You should be in and of the world so I want reporters on Twitter.”