Longform Podcast #398: Dean Baquet
A conversation with the executive editor of The New York Times
This is a transcript. You can listen to the episode here.
Max Linsky: Hi Dean.
Dean Baquet: How are you? It's good to be here.
ML: It's good to have you. It's good to have you. I feel like the chronology of you and I getting to sit down is important. So this first got set up in May, late May, and the idea was going to be, or at least my idea was, what's it like to run the New York Times in the middle of a global pandemic? And then shortly before we were scheduled to talk, this comes out. And I was like, "All right, well, we have a new conversation to have now." And we'll start there. And we're talking on Tuesday, June 23rd, and this morning another op-ed came out, by Wesley Lowery, who actually was on the show a couple of weeks ago. And I don't know how we can start anywhere other than Wesley's piece.
DB: Yeah, sure.
ML: And the title of it is . And I went back and read and listened to a lot of interviews with you, and objectivity comes up in almost all of them, I would say.
So maybe if we can start by you walking me through what your definition of objectivity is.
DB: Sure. I want to say first, I actually thought Wesley's essay was terrific. I sent him a note, saying that. I actually don't think we're that far apart, even though I'm as traditional a journalist as people would imagine, as the editor of the New York Times. I don't love the word objectivity. It's the original word, but I think it's gotten turned into a cartoon. I actually wrote down for myself, if you don't mind, just how I think about it.
ML: Wasn't a very surprising question, huh?
DB: No, it wasn't. So I wrote it down after I read Wesley's piece, and he may not completely agree with me, but I thought actually I'm closer to agreeing with him than some people would think.
To me the goal of a news story is to capture the news to the fullest, with as much precision as possible, every current viewpoint, personality, underlying motivation, and relevant piece of content. And I think what that means is that most subjects are not clearly black and white. Human rights are black and white. Racism, of course, is black and white. But most subjects in the American discussion and the international discussion are not.
For me, the objective reporter, but let me not use that word because I don't love it. Let me use – the independent and fair reporter – gets on an airplane to pursue a story with an empty notebook, believing that he or she doesn't fully know what the story is, and is going to be open to what they hear.
That's my definition of it. Open to what you hear. Empathetic to what you hear. I hate both-sider journalism. I just do. I think in the pre-Trump era, to be honest, I think newspapers had developed, occasionally, a rote format to capturing the kind of balance we're talking about. You would go and talk to a Senator, and he (mostly he) would posit a view, and then you'd go out and you'd get a quote from the other side and you'd plug it in. That's never how I think it was supposed to work. It was supposed to be a richer experience than that.
I think the arrival of Trump on the scene, who challenges us, who says things that turn out to be false, and who in fact has made the Republican party a group that sort of doesn't really challenge him in a forceful way, has sort of challenged the traditional easy notion of “objectivity.” Does that make sense?
ML: Yeah. I have some questions about it though.
DB: Shoot. Of course.
ML: One of them is, is it your definition of objectivity that has changed, or what you think the word has come to mean that makes you say "I'd rather call it something else?"
DB: I think it's what the word has come to mean. I actually just finished a book on the history of objective journalism, and at the time it was thought of as this revolutionary, thoughtful, concept. That facts were facts and that journalists should be almost scientific pursuers of truth. I think in the last handful of years, people have turned it into sort of a cartoon-like version of it, where it's just slapdash, sloppily, he said, she said. So since to my mind, it's been sort of turned on its head, I don't mind using other words, using other language. I don't think it's that I've changed.
I do think, and this is why reading work like Wesley's helps me, he is right that the next generation of journalists, particularly black journalists, but the next generation of journalists period, who grew up in a very tumultuous world in the transition from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, find that system we set up – that shorthand where you're on deadline, you just get a quote – I think they find that really hard to embrace and hard to accept.
And I actually think though the core definition of fairness and independence should remain. I think you ought to listen when smart people challenge it around the edges.
ML: What does that listening look like for you, the person who's running the New York Times?
Again, over and over in these interviews, you're talking about The Times needs to stand for objectivity, using that word. There's a phrase that had come up, I think on an episode of The Daily earlier this year about sophisticated objectivity.
DB: Yeah, yeah.
ML: And my experience of you in those interviews is that you are articulating and defending a value of the institution.
DB: Yes. That I am.
ML: And so I guess the thing I was wondering today, as you and I were going to talk after reading Wesley's piece, was it's interesting to hear you say that your experience of it is that you and he are closer than people would think. Because I read that piece as there was a reason it was in the New York Times, and it was a response to some of that institutional value.
DB: But read it, read it closely. And actually I wouldn't mind talking to Wesley about it.
ML: He could be a much better person to have the conversation with you than me.
DB: Who by the way, I think is a terrific journalist. Read it closely. He quotes Alex Jones' definition of objectivity. Alex Jones is a very traditional Timesman, if you will. Alex Jones wrote the book, , which is the most modern definitive history of the New York Times. And he quotes Alex Jones' definition, and he doesn't quibble with it. What he says is in the actual day to day living of that lofty definition, that's not what newspapers are doing.
I don't think he is saying, but maybe I'm misreading him, I don't think he is saying, in this very thoughtful essay, which is different from Tweets. I think he's saying if that's your definition of objectivity, and I wish I had Alex Jones' definition in front of me, if that's your definition of objectivity, you're not living up to it. That's how I read his piece. And then the second part of how I read his piece is the people who are pushing you, happen to be young black journalists in a moment where being a young black journalist is a particularly meaningful thing to be, to be frank.
ML: Yeah. Well, I want to talk about your relationship to young black journalists, but help me understand the gap between, or maybe there isn't one...
DB: I'm not sure there is a big gap.
ML: Well, help me understand your definition of independent and fair, and that description of a journalist getting on a plane with a blank notebook...
ML: ...going out to try and understand what's happening, and this paragraph from his essay.
ML: “We also know that neutral "objective" journalism is constructed atop a pyramid of subjective decision making. Which stories to cover, how intensely to cover those stories, which sources to seek out and include, which pieces of information are highlighted, and which are downplayed. No journalistic process is objective, and no individual journalist is objective, because no human being is." (Wesley Lowery, A Reckoning Over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists)
DB: I agree with him.
ML: Well, but here's the question. Here's the question.
DB: Go ahead.
ML: I'm genuinely just trying to understand.
ML: The journalist who gets on the plane, blank slate, blank notebook, also is bringing their life history to sitting on that plane, an editor told them to get on that plane.
DB: That's right. That's right.
ML: There's an investment in the plane ticket. That's the story that's going to go get covered.
ML: And so in your definition of objectivity, how does it account for all of those subjective choices?
DB: See, I read this part, I feel like I'm parsing the book of Wesley. I think that the guy who gets on the airplane with an empty notebook has all kinds of baggage. Of course he does. Can we use the word objectivity for shorthand?
DB: I would use prefer to use fairness and independence.
ML: I understand you. You're off the objectivity train. I understand.
DB: It's a goal. It's an elegant goal. The guy who gets on a plane to do a story about the Minneapolis Mayor's race, maybe in the bottom of his heart doesn't like Minneapolis. If you have a diverse newsroom, and an edited news report, you'll get closer to that goal. It's a goal.
My main view is this. I think that you've got to build an empathetic news report, and that's my primary goal, an empathetic news report that listens to people, that hears people, that doesn't laugh at people, but is truly empathetic and embracing. I think to do that, you have to have a very diverse newsroom, but you also have to get on the plane with as empty a notebook as possible. And you have to hope that the person who assigned you and the person who edits you also has an empty notebook. But does this sound a little bit lofty and airy? Sure it does. But think about what we're trying to do.
We can love newspapers as much as we want to, and I love them dearly. I was raised in a newsroom, but they're also manufacturing plants. We have to turn out two or 300 stories a day. And I think you've got to have a guiding principle. And my guiding principle is you want an empathetic news report that tries to take in everything, tries to take in as much information as possible, within the confines of a deadline, and tries to distill that into something honest. That to me is what you're striving for, whatever the right word is.
ML: And the question is if the goal is too lofty, if the gap between the goal and the reality is too vast, is the answer to keep running at the goal or is the answer to address the gap?
DB: Both. First off, you got to keep the goal. Newspapers are too powerful to not have a goal of empathy. They really are. I mean, I grew up in a poor, working class, black neighborhood in New Orleans. I grew up, frankly, afraid of cops. I grew up in a neighborhood where, if a cop drove by, your parents told you you didn't run, you stopped. I became a police reporter. If I was really going to tell the story of New Orleans and crime and sociology, I had to talk to cops, and I had to go into them, I'm not talking about racist, headbanging cops, I'm talking about most cops. I had to go into them with a little bit of an empty notebook. I also did the hardest hitting investigations anybody did at the time of cops in New Orleans. But part of being a journalist is you listen broadly. You just have to listen broadly.
Right now I walk out every night into Union Square, because I live near Union Square. And I walk through the streets during the demonstrations, and I want to know what those kids are thinking, but I also want to know what those cops are thinking. When I walk past ten cops, mixed black and white, drinking coffee, waiting for the ritual of the demonstration to start, I also want to know what they're thinking. I want to know whether the black cops are thinking, "I cannot believe I'm policing black people who are marching." I want to know whether the white cops are thinking the same thing, or if they're thinking something else. That to me is wanting the full story. Is that lofty? Sure it is, because it's going to be hard to make sure I understand the demonstrators and understand the cops. But maybe it's my Catholic upbringing, I believe you got to have some lofty goal in there someplace.
ML: What are you thinking when you're walking through those demonstrations?
DB: So, I am a 63 year old black man, who also is arguably one of the most powerful people in American journalism. I've said this to my deputies. I sit in my apartment in Greenwich Village, and I spend all day running, arguably the most powerful news report, and then in the evenings, I put on my jeans and sneakers and I have a hoodie and a mask. And when I walk out on the streets, I probably look like most of the demonstrators plus 40 years, or whatever it is. I am reminded that I'm a black man. Not that I need reminding, but I am reminded that there's not that much distance, other than age, between me and some of the demonstrators.
My youngest brother, who was also a journalist for most of his life, Terry, he was an editor at the Times-Picayune. So like me, he adheres to the rule that I can't demonstrate, I can't advocate. He took a buy out a few months ago from the Times-Picayune. He sent me a picture of himself and his wife at a demonstration in New Orleans where he lives. That was pretty powerful.
You know, I feel lots of things. It's an emotional moment for me too. I reside in two different worlds and it's powerful.
ML: How do you do that? How do you reside in two different worlds?
DB: Well, you have to remain the same in each world. I have a very idealized view of journalism. I dropped out of college to go to work for a newspaper. I grew up without very much money, and newspapers have given me a standard of living that would have been unimaginable to my father and mother. So I love journalism. I also think that if I look back on my career, I've changed the world in important ways, but I'm also very aware of who I am. And I think that that makes me a better journalist. I'm also aware that I see those marches probably a little differently than my colleagues.
I am also very aware as I get older, I always say to people, this is not a great commentary in our profession: "Of the half a dozen biggest newspapers in America, two of them have had black executive editors, and both were me, the LA Times and the New York Times."
No, I feel it powerfully. How do I do it? I bring to news judgment part of what I acquired growing up in New Orleans. That influences the way I look at the world. Sure.
ML: You were saying that when you walk through those demonstrations, you're reminded of that duality. Has it not been present for you always in your career as a journalist?
DB: Oh, it's always been present, but it's powerfully present when you walk out among literally thousands of kids who are marching. So it's always part of my life, but it's much more powerful now.
Look, I grew up in the 1960s, in the Deep South, in New Orleans. I went to an all black grammar school and an all black high school. And when I showed up at Columbia University on a scholarship, the only white people that had been exposed to as a kid were priests and nuns. Suddenly I was in a completely different world. I have a very powerful memory of the high school I went to, it’s called St. Augustine's High School. At the time, New Orleans was a very Catholic city, but if you were a black Catholic, you had no choice but go to the school, the other schools were not encouraging.
And during one particularly heated governor's race, John McKeithen, who was the Governor of Louisiana, was running for reelection, and was thought of by Southern standards as a progressive. He came in and he spoke to the student body of Saint Augustine, because these were probably the future leaders of New Orleans, they were working class kids, and he could not say Negro. He was not from New Orleans. He was from someplace else. I can't remember where McKeithen was from. Negro came out as “Nigra,” nobody said Black, this is 1960s. And he's talking about how much he had done for the “Nigra.” It was infuriating and humiliating at the same time. And trying to convince yourself that maybe it's his accent, that was a very powerful moment. My guess is that has not happened to the next generation of black kids.
I also think as I wander through the marches in the village, they're incredibly diverse. It's a very diverse, powerfully, diverse movement. I mean, my place may be skewed because it's in the Village. Brooklyn may look different, other parts look different, but it's a really interesting mix of Black kids, white kids, kids who look like they went to NYU before it shut down. It's really interesting. It's powerful.
ML: When you got to Columbia and all of a sudden you were in this white space for the first time, how'd you navigate that?
DB: First thing I did was I found all the other Black kids and spent all my time with them. My Columbia could have been a historically Black university. I spent all of my time with a handful of, I think Columbia had 750 kids in the freshmen class, and I think 70 of them were Black. Over the next couple of years, the numbers shrank. And I spent all my time with the other Black kids. We would eat together, we would play ball together, we would walk around together. There were only a couple of Black English majors and so I was an English major and it took me a while to get used to being the only Black guy in whatever literature class it was. I never fully got as comfortable as I would like to have gotten and I regret some of that because I think I could have exploited New York a little more than I did. In fact, ultimately I left partly because I found my life's work, but also because I never quite completely fit in.
ML: Did you fit in in newsrooms?
DB: Oh God, the first day ... I'm an English major thinking vaguely I would go to law school or something and I was really homesick. All of my friends had stayed home and gone to historically Black colleges like Xavier and Dillard. So, I would go down and visit them and they had these vibrant social lives and I was homesick for them. So I applied for an internship at the afternoon paper in New Orleans, and it was easy to get internships in those days because every city had two papers, some had three. So I got an internship. I mean, I was a good writer but I didn't study journalism. Boy, almost from the start, there were not a lot of other Black people in the newsroom, but there were all these interesting eccentrics. It was like a big adrenaline rush. It was easy to get on the front page because the staff was small.
There were a couple of people who ended up being big stars. Walter Isaacson was the city hall reporter and he and I did a couple things together. Plus, New Orleans is a very, at least then, was a very segregated city and I lived in half the city. I had never really spent any time in uptown New Orleans, even though my father had been a mailman in uptown New Orleans. The first time I got sent out on a fire, it's the most dishonest thing I've ever done in journalism. I couldn't find the fire because it was an uptown New Orleans and had to reconstruct the fire, I can't believe I'm admitting that, I had to go in and talk to all the neighbors so I could write a nightly fire story.
ML: Just for the record, what you're saying here on the Longform Podcast, is that your first piece of journalism, you had to recreate it?
DB: One of my early pieces, it was one of the first, but I went in, I thought, "Oh my God, the fire's out." I had to knock on doors, say, "What did the fire look like? What did the fire ..." so I could describe it. Because that half of the city was completely different. It was like the whole city opened up in a big way. The people in newsrooms were ... They were terrific. They were interesting. They were all the eccentrics of their families. The guys who were from uptown New Orleans, which is the fancy part of New Orleans, these were the guys who didn't go to law school.
There was also the beginning of a real power shift in New Orleans. I think shortly after I got there at some point, New Orleans elected its first Black mayor and you could feel the power structure shaking a little bit in the city. It was just like the most exciting thing I'd ever seen.
ML: Were they terrific to you as a young Black reporter?
DB: They were. I don't know what it was because not every young Black reporter had the same kind of experience I had. In fact, some of them left the profession. I was embraced, but I was very aggressive too. I was very ambitious and very aggressive. I went out on stories without telling anybody. You're supposed to work the 5:00 AM to 1:00 PM shift in an afternoon newspaper. I worked till midnight and started again at 5:00. I think I was so excited that I just was not going to be denied. Within a couple of years I was one of the best reporters at the paper at like 24 and I couldn't go back to college. I had found my life's work and college felt boring.
ML: Yeah, who wants to go back to college after that?
DB: Yeah. There were many editors who didn't embrace me, of course, but you know what? Some did and the ones who didn't, I actually didn't care. I just wasn't going to be denied. It was like something woke up in me, something ambitious and something that felt like it could have real impact on the city and I loved the city. So, I don't think I cared that much about who got in the way.
ML: As your career progressed and you win a and start moving up the masthead at these major papers, did that energy continue?
ML: Did that continue to be your experience as a black journalist?
DB: I'm not saying I didn't encounter race throughout my career, but I think I was running so fast and leaning forward and having so much fun and having so much impact and taking the biggest stories, whether they were offered to me or not, it was a time when, if you didn't take them, if I had waited for people to offer me the biggest stories, I don't know what would have happened. I had a couple of really important mentors too throughout my career, I had a couple of people who ... Joe Lelyveld who was the editor of the Times, John Carroll, who was the editor of the LA Times and a couple of guys in New Orleans. A guy named Jim Amos and a guy named Jack Davis, who looked out for me.
ML: All white guys?
DB: All white guys. There were no Black guys in positions of power. I never encountered a powerful Black editor until Gerald Boyd at the New York Times who was the metro editor when I showed up. There weren't any powerful Black journalists in any of those places.
ML: When did you know that you wanted that for yourself?
DB: You mean to be a powerful editor?
DB: I didn't. I wanted to be Sy Hersch. I wanted to be a big investigative reporter and that's what I'd always been as a reporter. That's what I did at the Tribune, that's what I won the Pulitzer for, and when the New York Times hired me, they hired me as one of the few investigative reporters. My second or third year, I was a finalist for the Pulitzer for investigative reporting. I was the paper's national investigative reporter, I had the best job imaginable, and then one day they twisted my arm to become an editor and I didn't want to do it. I resisted, and one day Lelyveld said, "You got to give me a year." I said I'd do it for a year and then I hated the first year and loved it after that.
The first time I ever thought I could be editor of the New York Times I think was when John Carroll showed up, who had just been named editor of the LA Times, and he offered me the job of managing editor of the LA Times. I was national editor of the New York Times at the time. Joe Lelyveld tried to convince me not to leave. He made it clear to me just how bright a path ahead at the New York Times and it was the first time I thought of it that way.
ML: Was it exciting?
DB: Yeah. I suddenly had Joe telling me ... I was young. I was like 40. He just said, "The sky's the limit for you." Then I had this guy, John Carroll, who was just a very different creature. It was an exciting choice. I don't regret it, I'm glad. The best thing that happened to me was going to the LA Times.
ML: I want to keep walking through your career, but I'd like just to go back those 14 years or so and maybe go back to the text of Wesley for a second.
DB: I should have printed it out.
ML: Well, I got a couple of passages here for you. And you said when you were in New Orleans that there were Black journalists there that had a different experience for you and people that left the profession. Well, I'll just read you this sentence and then I'm interested in what your reaction is to it which is, "Collectively the industry has responded to generations of Black journalists with indifference at best an open hostility at its frequent worst." Does that sound true to you?
DB: It has not been my experience. I have not had the experience of open hostility in my career as a journalist. I've had the experience of being insulted, I've had the experience of knowing that there were people who believed that I was lesser because I was Black, I had all of those experiences. I didn't have the experience of open hostility. I can speculate why – I was in my hometown, but look, maybe it was because as a very young man maybe my own life's expectations were lower. When I was a young reporter, I was already making more than most people I knew at $19,000 a year. Maybe that made it different for me. Maybe I wasn't expecting people to say, "Come on in the water's great, come be a big star journalist." Maybe I wasn't expecting that. Wesley's generation and Astead Herndon's generations rightly come in and say, "I want to demand change right now." And they're right.
My generation, I walked into my first newsroom in 1975, '76, when there were so few people that that would have been a very foreign kind of conversation. It should work that every generation demands more, right?
ML: One of the topics of conversation in the wake of that Cotton op-ed, was that what was happening at the Times was generational and I'm interested in what your experience, when that piece came out, was and what it was like. I don't know if you're on Twitter with some sort of secret Twitter account or what...
DB: No. I look every once in a while, but I've tweeted once many years ago.
ML: Yeah, 2014, I think.
DB: Yeah, I don't love Twitter.
ML: No one loves Twitter.
ML: But that night, the night that Cotton op-ed goes up and all of a sudden staffer after staffer at the New York Times is tweeting the same thing, including a significant number of Black staffers. I'm sure that was on your screen very quickly.
DB: Oh yeah. I hadn't even read the op-ed when I started to hear about the tweets. The wall between the newsroom and opinion is really thick.
DB: I didn't know about the op-ed, I wouldn't have known about the op-ed. When the tweets first started coming in, I can't remember how I heard about it, somebody called to say, "You should look at this," late that night. My first thought was, "I better read this op-ed." My second thought was, "Look, I'm the leader of the institution," even though opinion's not under me. So my second thought was, "Boy, this is going to be really difficult." At a certain point, a little bit of pride seeped in.
ML: Tell me what you mean.
DB: It was a movement. All the tweets were exactly the same. They were supporting each other in defiance of our rules, they were making a moral point, they literally were making the point that we don't object to different opinions being brought into the New York Times, they were very clear about that, which is a core value of the New York Times. They were making the point that they hated this one.
I think overnight, I started to feel like, to be honest, I had witnessed something really powerful. All the tweets were exactly alike. I looked in and I saw traditional white journalists jumping in, in their own way to say something similar. The last thing I was thinking about, it didn't even cross my mind, "Oh my God, they're violating our social media policy." I thought this was a big deal and they're telling us something. That was my reaction. I said that publicly when we had our first all hands meeting.
When I first glanced at the op-ed, I was defensive of it because I was thinking about the principal, to be honest.
ML: The principle of . . .
DB: There are two principles I was thinking of. First off, they have to be able to live safely on the other side of the wall and they can't if the guy who's got the biggest empire on the other side of the wall is shooting at them. I also believe in the principle that outside voices are welcomed. Sometimes we do this, we jump to principle first. As I settled into the op-ed, I actually thought it was a very flawed op-ed – I thought it was troubled, but that was my experience with it.
ML: The tweet everyone was sending was, "Running this puts black New York Times staff in danger." In that first moment when your first reaction was principle, was that movement, that protest, was it threatening? Did you feel threatened?
DB: No, no. No, no. I never felt like this movement would overthrow me. Maybe it will one day, but that's not what I meant. First off, leaders don't like their colleagues to feel like they're in pain or threatened and leaders like a certain amount of peace in the kingdom. This was no peace in the kingdom. As time passed and I saw how big it was, there was definitely no peace in the kingdom. I wanted to protect the principle of op-ed and separation, and I wanted to protect the notion that we get outside voices, but after I saw the volume and the passion and the kinds of people, I understood that this was something bigger that we should pay attention to.
ML: In the wake of it one strain of the processing of it was that it was generational. Does that feel right to you?
DB: Not really. I know what the people who believe that are trying to say, but I think it's too simplistic. There were people on that Twitter thread who were my age. There were traditional journalists, there were people new to the profession... Shortly afterward I had a meeting with all the department heads and the masthead editors, the heads of the big departments who are traditional. These are the princelings of the New York Times, and I sat down with them by Zoom, by Google Hangout, and they told me they were appalled. They hated the op-ed. This is my generation. I don't think it was generational.
The only part that I think is generational, I do think and I think this is healthy, younger journalists feel more comfortable speaking out than my generation of journalists. Younger journalists, and we've asked them to speak out, so we can't complain too much, younger journalists are more comfortable pushing back and speaking out. They grew up in a world of Twitter, which encourages that kind of conversation. There are a lot of journalists who grew up with Barack Obama. Barack Obama stunned my generation. The election, that to me, was earth shattering. But I think there was another generation that grew up in a different political world. So while I don't think it was generational, I think it was richer than that. I do think that this stuff happens generationally and I just think it's more powerful in this generation.
ML: What's challenging for you running the place as part of a different generation? What about that gap makes doing your job harder?
DB: I feel like I have driven a tremendous amount of change at the New York Times. I became editor six years ago. We did not have The Daily, our video operation was not as sophisticated as now, we certainly didn't have a television show. The cooking app wasn't what it is now. I think I did that by struggling with one question. I don't mean I did it alone, but I always try to question what is the difference between what is truly tradition and core and what's merely habit. A lot of stuff we think are core, are just habits. The way we write newspaper stories, that's not core, those are habits. I think that's the most important part about leading a place that's going through dramatic change and even generational change. You got to say, "Here's what's not going to change. This is core. This is who we are." Everything else is sort of up for grabs.
ML: So what's changed in the last three weeks?
DB: I think that Black and Latino reporters, journalists, have told us that we only accomplished half of what we set out to do, and they're right. We set out to diversify the newsroom, but we didn't then say, "Isn't the next step to actually figure out a way to take what all of these new voices have to bring?"
I think in a lot of ways we brought in different talents, not just about race, we brought in audio, video. We brought in lots of different people. We started hiring from Buzzfeed. We started hiring from other places. And it was almost like we thought, "Okay, now they're just going to become just like us." I think what they're telling us is, "We're not going to become just like you. You need to build a newsroom that will listen to us and change in ways that accommodate that we're different."
I had lunch with a young Black reporter before the pandemic so eight months ago, and we were debating something. She's much younger than I am, and I can't remember what we were debating. She was pushing me really hard and then she stopped and she said, "What did you think was going to happen when you hired me?" I thought, "She's right. Did I think she was just going to come in and say, 'Thanks, I'm really thrilled to be here, now I'm going to be just like you?'" That defeats the purpose of diversifying the staff. I think they told us we need to come up with a way to hear them out and to let them make their contribution to the place.
ML: Do you understand that as the distinction between diversity and inclusion?
DB: Yeah, I hadn't thought of it that way. I think diversity is the first step, and we're not there yet in that regard, you try to bring in a diverse population, and inclusion is you try to figure out how you need to change and what you need to do to make them not only comfortable but thrive. You got to figure out what to let go of and what to hold onto. That's harder than it sounds, but that to me is the job.
ML: What's it like doing that job as a Black journalist yourself?
DB: On the one hand, it's easier. On the other hand, it's a lot harder. The part that's easier is I do think that when they sit down with me, they know that I have life experiences like theirs. I may be 63, they may be 33, but they can't look at me and think that I'm like every other boss they've had, they can't. As I've gotten older, I didn't used to do this as a young journalist, I've started to talk about my experiences and experiences of race much more openly. That's the part that's easier.
The part that's harder ... I have another job. I have to protect the place. I have to make it better, but also sometimes resist the things that they want to change because I think those things are important to the core.
ML: What are those things? What are they asking for that's not core?
DB: I think some of them would like us to be, this is not true of all of them, I think some of them would like us to be more ... I think we're very aggressive with covering Donald Trump. I think we're as aggressive as anybody, if not more. I think some of them would like us to be even more aggressive. And here's the difference between me as the editor of the paper and everybody else, I guess, except maybe the publisher: I have to juggle two things, right? I have to figure out how to cover this president who is an anomaly in modern American politics. And I got to come out the other side with the core stuff intact.
I can't throw everything to the side and say, this guy's different, we're just going to be completely different. Because I got to wake up the day after he's not president, or else my successor has to wake the day he's not president, thinking we're still the New York Times. So there's an institutional foundation that's got to be protected even as we make the kinds of changes I think we need to make.
ML: Yeah. The thing you just said, I want to make sure we say clearly, which is like being a Black journalist or a young Black journalist at the New York Times is not a monolithic experience.
DB: Yeah, of course it's not. We had a debate over capitalizing the B in Black. I didn't run it, but the national editor happens to be Black, ran it. And he came back to me, there was a fierce debate. There were young Black reporters who didn't think it should be capitalized. And there were many who thought it should be capitalized. There is no monolith.
ML: But getting back to Trump and how you cover him in a way that stays core. Help me understand why calling him a racist in the pages of the New York Times is not the most direct and accurate way to describe him.
DB: So I have very complicated feelings about this. First off we have said he uses racist language. We said it the last two days.
ML: But it's not always that the phrase is, he used racist language. Sometimes the phrases are more opaque, less direct, more euphemistic . . .
DB: I think in the beginning we were a little too opaque. I'll admit that.
ML: Does that come from you?
DB: I think it came from the institution. We're not used to having presidents of the United States who say the things he says. I can make the case that in the very beginning, we were a little opaque. Less opaque in the last year or two of his presidency, far less opaque. Look, we all have to get used to this president, right?
ML: We do?
DB: Well, if you cover him every day and you're writing half a dozen stories about him, you have to, I don't know if you have to get used to it, you have to develop a system. He defies our systems.
ML: Sorry, I want to push on that for a second.
DB: Yeah, yeah.
ML: Because I actually think that that's an important distinction. I had on the show a couple of years ago, and basically I was just asking her over and over again in different ways, how conscious are you of the lasting historical impact of your reporting on this president and the fact that to the degree that you do get used to him as a president, it will normalize things. It will allow the goalpost to get moved for what's okay and what's not okay. What's a big story and what's not a big story. And the degree to which this sort of typical dynamics of access journalism and presidential journalism do and don't work in this moment? But the thing I was actually interested in was like, how much does she think about it herself as she's doing the job? And I have the same question for you.
DB: I think about it constantly. I think about it constantly. I go into page one meetings and after he fires the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and it's the fifth time he's fired an independent prosecutor, an IG. And I sometimes walk in and I say, let's pause for a second. He just fired the one guy who was still investigating him. I think about it a lot.
And his behavior is so different. You know, somebody is going to do a brilliant academic study on the beginnings of the word normalize, which I actually think is sort of a propaganda or political propaganda word. I guess it means, treat him like a normal president. Nobody's treating him like a normal president. Nobody is. If you look at the language in American newspapers, if you look at how he's covered. The refusal by the New York Times and the Washington Post to run his briefings live . . . nobody's treating him like a normal president. We're treating him like this highly unusual figure.
But I think all the time about when I'm in a nursing home and I look back at our coverage of Donald Trump, how will I feel? And you know what? I feel pretty good about it. I know there are people who say Twitter has a very short memory. We were the first ones to write about his abuse of women when he was a candidate. We were the first ones to get at any piece of his tax returns. We're the first one to write about the history of fraud in his financial history. So I know I feel confident, but I asked myself that hard question every day. I don't want to be one of those newspaper editors of the southern newspapers that found themselves 75 years later apologizing. I actually think we're pretty tough on him.
ML: Are there parts of your coverage since the 2016 election started, that when you're sitting in that nursing home, you're going to have regrets about? Do you think you've made mistakes?
DB: Yeah, of course. Though the mistake, I think we have made... Newspapers, I'm going to speak generally. Everybody thinks the mistake we made was writing too much about Hillary Clinton's emails. You know, I have said that there's some things in that time I would have done differently. The biggest mistake journalists made was to not understand that the country could elect Donald Trump. That was the biggest mistake. We didn't have a handle on the fact that the country was either so willing to look the other way and so angry. I think we sometimes still have to work hard to see that. I don't have big regrets about what we've done since the election. I would point out, you shouldn't point to prizes, but I will, I think we've won three Pulitzer Prizes in three years for covering Donald Trump? That's people in the profession making some kind of statement.
ML: Let's make it back to the objectivity thing. I was in the building the day after the election, I was producing the . And we made an episode that day in which Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham tried to process what had happened, and it was emotional. I think actually that one made its way to your desk, I think. I think you had an opinion on that one.
DB: Probably I don't remember, but probably. Go ahead.
ML: But I was in the building that day and there was shock, and there was also sadness.
ML: And not everyone. Again, it's not a monolith. But there was sadness in the building that day. And I think to deny that is . . .
DB: Yeah, I saw it.
ML: Yeah. So how do you take that moment and put that moment on a plane with a blank notebook to cover what's happened for the last three years? How do you square those two things?
DB: Yeah, yeah. I get it. It's hard. First off reporters are remarkably professional. And I know reporters during that time who cried, who were upset, but some of those same reporters decided they needed to understand what the hell happened. And I do not believe you can walk around with a magic wand and say, “Okay, it's over. You're no longer upset. You're no longer upset. You're no longer upset.” I think you can say, a professional journalist now goes out and tries to understand what happened and tries to understand this figure.
Every journalist has an editor. Nobody just writes and just throws it into the paper. And the editors have to do the same thing. And I have to readjust my brain too. I have to come in and say, Okay, we need to understand this phenomenon. The beauty of newspapers is they're daily. And you just sort of push people to go out and understand the story. And almost everybody responds to that.
ML: Were you upset?
DB: I'm going to punt on that one. That's my first one I've punted on. I'll punt on that one.
ML: I got one more you're probably going to punt on, but it is written down. And I'm genuinely curious. What do you think of the guy?
DB: I've had three conversations with him... four in my life. I think he's an incredibly divisive figure. I think I'm going to stop. I think I'll stop. Other than to say he's an incredibly divisive figure.
ML: Do you like to fight with him? Is it energizing for you?
DB: I'm energized by the story. I don't think I'm energized by the fight with him. I believe they're supposed to be tension between me and presidents. I ran the Washington Bureau for most of Barack Obama's time in office, I never met him. He would host off the record dinners and lunches at the White House, I never went. I just don't think I'm supposed to have off the record conversations with the president. And I stick to the same thing with Trump. I don’t want to have off the record conversations... I don't want to know stuff the readers can't know. That's not my thing.
So I don't know him. He says things in small groups that he thinks people want to hear. The couple of times I've sat with him in small groups it's very clear. You're sitting down with the editorial board of the New York Times, which I'm not a member, and he sounded like a moderate Republican. Because I think that's what he figured the editorial board of the New York Times wanted to hear. I haven't spent much time with him since. I think I've had one conversation in which he called to complain about a story and I disagreed with him and it was polite, sort of.
ML: What was impolite about it?
DB: Well, I didn't agree with his complaint and I told him. And he didn't get nasty. I don't like going off the record, but he called me and he said, "This is off the record." He didn't like a story. And I told him, I thought he was wrong.
ML: You've talked about Twitter. You've mentioned Twitter off hand a couple of times since we've been talking and sort of the internet more generally. And my sense is you're not all in on it.
DB: I should say my views are complicated. I think Twitter has given people voice and power and I think that's important and good and healthy. I just personally don't like the kind of conversation that takes place around journalism on Twitter.
ML: Well, the place I was going with that question is to the extent that it has given voice and power to people who didn't traditionally have it, particularly people who didn't traditionally have it as a way of mobilizing or voicing displeasure with institutions like the New York Times. How much are you thinking about that reaction to the work? Like, I'm thinking about these moments that these headlines go viral. They're not totally connected to the story. And in a lot of those situations, bad headlines went out, it went viral. You go out and you talk to a lot of people, you sort of explain how headlines work and the mechanics of a newspaper. But it clearly gets the attention of the institution when those moments happen. And I wonder how much you and the institution internalize that, how much you react to that. And then as part of that question, and sorry, this is a long one, the business model has changed in a way that I think interacts with that question, which is the more that the institution relies on digital subscriptions as its model, the more, potentially, you have to be thinking of those subscribers, be thinking of that audience. And so I wonder how much you think that's impacted the work that the place does or how it does it.
DB: That's a good question because it used to be that we didn't know who our critics were. I do not overreact to Twitter. What I've done is I've found a handful of critics who criticize us, who I think are thoughtful and are not just filled with rage at the New York Times. Many critics are so filled with rage at the New York Times so they want to go after the institution, that they're not much value to me. But I have found a handful of critics who I read and when they have something to say, even if I don't agree with them, I think about it.
I do not wake up in the morning checking Twitter to see what the latest attacks are and what people think about the New York Times. I think I did that a couple times over the years and it felt like drinking too much. It just felt like, at the end of it, you didn't know what to do with it. And it was sort of all over the place and it wasn't helpful. But I seek out people who I think are honorable critics on Twitter and I'll look at them.
I don't see how you can not, right? I know the decision that the publisher made to not have a public editor was based in part on the notion that we have critics who can get to us now and get themselves heard. So I don't know how I can get away with saying I don't want to hear from anybody.
And to your business model question, the transformation of our business model to having to listen to readers and having to be responsive to readers, as opposed to the old model of advertisers, is even more of a reason you should listen. Though I'm not a hundred percent convinced, and there's powerful evidence of it, those are two different sets of people. I don't think Twitter media critics are on the same page as our core subscribers.
ML: But there's always like a piece of that story when those headlines go viral and stuff that like cancellations are up and whatnot, right?
DB: You want to do something shocking?
DB: When there are cancellations, nobody tells me.
ML: Can you ask?
DB: I don't want to know. And the publisher doesn't really want me to know. And I don't particularly want to know. Because once you start finding out about cancellations, then you're going to start asking about how many new subscribers did we get because of this great investigation we did.
ML: And you don't think about that either?
DB: I think about building audience. I don't want to kid you, I think about subscribers and building audience.
ML: But not at that retail level.
DB: Not at reaction to individual stories. You'll make yourself crazy if you do that. If somebody says 50,000 people canceled their subscriptions, that's going to make you crazy. And if it gets around the newsroom it may even make people nervous.
ML: I think that's right. Although I think the internet has made us crazy.
DB: Yeah. That's true.
ML: There's untold infinite number of media outlets that are literally designed to play that game. The craziness is in their DNA.
DB: But the reason we're like beating all of them, I think, is because we're not playing that game. Nobody believes this, we don't play the clicks game. If we did that, we wouldn't have stories on the front page from Iraq or from Libya. We play the: we want our stories read. We want to seek out an audience. We want people to buy the New York Times. I got to support a 1600 person newsroom, but I don't want to overreact to every, "They didn't like this. They did like this." I think that'll make me crazy.
ML: To what extent has sort of changing the institutional philosophy around stars interacted with this thing that we're talking about? 10 years ago, the Times was everything but publicly against having stars.
ML: . . .And that appears to have totally 180’d. Some of the stars have come from within the building. Some of them have been taken from elsewhere. Some of them have been on the verge of stardom and exploded once at the Times. But there are stars there. Now there are people who are a brand unto themselves.
DB: We always had stars. Who's a bigger star than Johnny Apple?
ML: Sure. Sure.
DB: Hendrick Smith, these guys were stars. But you're asking the right question, and part of it is because of all of the platforms that we're on. Like Michael Barbaro. There was no Michael Barbaro 20 years ago. I would say two things. First, it is different managing people who are large in their own right.
ML: Different how?
DB: Oh, there are people outside the building clamoring for them. I used to say in the old days, you would never want a reporter to appear on television. Maggie is a contributor to either MSNBC or CNN or one of them. I'm hard pressed to deny her that kind of income, and I benefit from her being seen. On the other hand there are things I don't want her to say, which she's good at, and a tone I want her to try to set. And that's tricky as you get more and more people who are playing outside of the 8th Avenue newsroom.
Almost all of them though, still live in a world that's dependent on the New York Times. The Daily, Michael Barbaro was a giant star and a great journalist. As is Lisa Tobin, the creator of it. But I think they would be the first to say The Daily is dependent on having New York Times reporters on talking about their stories. But you have to own up to the fact that, you know, I don't love star systems, but you have to accommodate them in different ways. You have to allow for the fact that Maggie gets to go on television. There are people who cover less glamorous beats who are not going to get to go on television.
ML: And ultimately, are you comfortable with the risk that people could get a platform so big that either from a business sense or from a professional sense, they're better on their own or can eclipse the place, or is your faith in the institution so strong that stars do not feel threatening in the way that they maybe once did?
DB: My faith in the institution is so strong they don't feel threatening.
ML: Then why was the institution, if not against them, then not fostering them before? What changed?
DB: I think it's a bunch of stuff. In the purely print era, there was less temptation. The only temptation for Johnny Apple and his generation was Meet the Press. Maggie Haberman gets book offers. She gets documentary film offers. She gets offers to appear on every television show, every talk show. Michael Barbaro gets offers to speak on college campuses. It's different though. The shrinking media landscape, I have one theory about it, which is that television doesn't do much reporting anymore, so they need our reporters. It means that people are throwing stuff at them all the time. I think that's very different.
DB: It was easy to say to Hendrick Smith, "I don't want you to go on Meet the Press." It's a lot harder if Hendrick Smith was around today to say, you can make extra money being on MSNBC, I understand that you've been offered the chance to write the biggest book ever about whatever. And I also understand that we, in fact, want you on our documentary film about... Fill in the blanks. So given that we're asking them to participate in stuff, but the main thing is that the landscape has exploded. There are all of these people who want New York Times or Washington Post journalists on their shows, talking. And to be frank, some of it is the Trump era, I don't know how long that's going to last. But I get that there are reporters who have done an amazing job covering Donald Trump for whom there are more opportunities to go on television and talk. And I don't want to get in the way of that. Reporters don't make enough money.
ML: If only you had some control over that.
DB: Well, there's still a limit. And I do have 1600 journalists.
ML: One more journalism business question.
ML: You were running the LA Times and left in part because you had been asked by the Tribune company to do lay-offs and didn't want to do them.
DB: Yeah, that was most of it. I felt misled by them. I thought the cuts were on the verge of destroying the place. I thought the place could have been the model regional news organization. And every time I wanted to talk about how to do that, they wanted to talk about cutting. It's evidenced, by the way, my publisher also refused to make the cuts. We both saw it as we were dangerously, depleting the paper. And it's true. They dangerously depleted the paper.
ML: There's a dynamic, certainly among newspapers. But I think about media in general right now that is feeling more and more like it sort of haves and have nots. There are a handful of publications, yours, absolutely at the top of the list that seem to be thriving, growing, and adding stars and adding reach and finding sustainable business models. But there are not many of them. I wonder what your experience of that is. Your shop by all accounts, from a business and health of the institution perspective has had a really good arc during your tenure. It's gotten better. For the vast majority of journalism and journalists, those same dynamics have gotten much, much worse.
ML: And we're now in the midst of these layoffs all over the place. So, I guess, one question is, what's it like for you as the guy running The New York Times to watch this happen? The second is, do you feel some responsibility to figure out paths forward for other places? How much responsibility do you feel for the industry as a whole, given that you, by your own definition, are arguably one of the most powerful people in it?
DB: I feel having spent a period of time... I think I counted that I took the LA times from 1,200 to 900 before I finally said, "Stop." I feel incredibly fortunate to have arrived at a place in a moment where we're hiring, we're building.
ML: I mean, there's also been layoffs and buyouts during the time. It's refashioned itself.
DB: Yes. Our buyouts and layoffs for the most part in my tenure have been to change the place. So, look I'm fortunate. I think that what's happening to local journalism absolutely breaks my heart. I met my wife in a newsroom. All my friends come from modest-sized papers, grew up in modest-sized papers. It breaks my heart. What breaks my heart the most is when I read the academic studies that say this new journalism operation here, this one here... None of them are being set up to cover the neighborhood I grew up in New Orleans. Nobody's come up with a model to cover that neighborhood that I've seen. That is terrible for the democracy. It means that the Dean Baquet who grew up reading the sports section of New Orleans State's Item is probably not going to grow up reading the sports section of... He may be reading the Times-Picayune now. But if the Times-Picayune doesn't survive, I don't know what he's going to read.
It breaks my heart. If we have a landscape where it's these three great newspaper behemoths and whatever... Whether they're newspapers or not. The New York Times, The Post, and The Journal, the occasional startup in an affluent community like LA and Silicon Valley, a handful of newspapers owned by billionaires and nobody covering Newark, if the Star-Ledger doesn't make it. And nobody covering the Seventh Ward of New Orleans... That's where I grew up in the Seventh Ward, in Tremé. That is terrible for democracy and for a whole generation. I don't know what the answer is, but I feel very obligated to try to figure something out, to help at least be part of the solution.
ML: Can you do that while you're running The New York Times? Can that be part of running The New York Times?
DB: I think The New York Times can help in a lot of ways, and we've tried. We've done partnerships with other papers, but you can't create a meaningful change business model for hundreds of communities around the country. I don't think we can do that. And I don't think we can cover the Seventh Ward of new Orleans. I just don't think we have the wherewithal or the finances or the size to do that.
ML: Well, even beyond the Seventh Ward, I mean, part of the strategy of the business of the last 10 years has been shedding the assets that aren't The Times and focusing on the core, right?
ML: It's like, to succeed in this moment you have to take care of you and yours, you know what I mean?
DB: That's right. And we're not... Let's face it. It feels like we're in a golden era. It's only been three or four years that we've been in this golden era. We have weathered what is now a pretty significant... I guess it's more than a recession that we're in now, but it's not like we've had 10 years of comfort with this new model. So, I think we got to fix our own first and make sure we're sustainable and comfortable, but I do think that somehow the news organizations that have figured it out have to help other people figure it out. But we haven't completely figured it out. We're farther along than everybody else, I would argue, than everybody else.
ML: Well, certainly that's where my question is coming from. I just think this is basic human nature, which is like, "You never feel like you've figured it out."
DB: Yes, that's true.
ML: I really appreciate how open you've been through this whole thing, and I just want to ask you maybe a more direct version of the question that I was stammering to ask you for an hour which is, you have had this incredibly successful, prodigious career as a Black journalist. I wonder how you think race has impacted the way that you do your current job, the way that you manage, the way that you run the place. I also wonder what your relationship is to the Black journalists who were colleagues of yours throughout this meteoric rise that you have been on, who are having such a different experience.
What you were saying was, "I kind of had blinders on. I was so focused on what I was doing that that was my experience." And again, it's this idea that it's not a monolithic experience, I think is really important. At the same time, you're now running the most powerful and important news organization in America, and the Black staff at your institution is telling you this place needs to change in some way. I wonder how race interacts with how you're going to answer the question.
DB: Sure. Well, race has certainly shaped my career. I think I became an investigative reporter partly because I'm skeptical and a little bit suspicious of power, at least questioning of power. Suspicious is probably not the right word. I'm certainly questioning of power. That certainly comes from growing up the way I grew up, not only Black, but Black without a lot of money. I am empathetic. I believe in second chances for people. I think that comes partly from growing up in a world where if you flunked your first chance you were out. I mean, in the world I grew up in, my cousins and relatives who fell off the pole, if you will, had a hard time getting back up. I think that makes me empathetic toward my staff. It makes me want to help the guy who falls off the pole, frankly, sometimes people say to a fault.
How I manage the younger Black reporters who think things have to change, I think that my response is, "Yes, they do." I'm not hidebound about what newspapers are and what they should be. Maybe that is partly because I'm Black, too.
I know what I don't think can change. I know what I believe we have to hold on to, that core of who we are, which is independence and some empathy and balance. I hate the word, but I'll use it, some version of objectivity. I get that. I believe in my bones that the core of that can’t change, though we can tinker with some of it, and we need to explain it better. But when young journalists say, particularly young Black journalists, you got to change so I'm listened to, you got to change the way you cover certain communities. My answer to that is, "I'm all ears. Bring it on. I want that."
ML: And have you always been that way or has that changed in the last couple of weeks?
DB: I think I've always been that way, but I think in the last couple of weeks, seeing just how many of them feel that way collectively, has made me even more aware of it. Also, looking out in the street, looking outside my window...
ML: Walking through those protests.
DB: Yeah. Look, journalism is supposed to reflect its time. It just is. We are in a time when young people are demanding change, and newspapers are supposed to reflect that change to a certain degree. Right? You're supposed to say, "Okay, we're supposed to be reflective of society." So, I think you're supposed to change with that. I do. I think you're supposed to say, "I get it. Let's talk about what our coverage should look like and how it should be different."
ML: You've talked a lot about that distinction between what's core and what can change and how you see your job as figuring out the line between those two.
DB: That's right.
ML: What I hear you saying is you got to hold on to what's core and be willing to change what's outside of that.
ML: But I wonder if what you're talking about is whether something can go from outside and become core. Is there a value that has not been an institutional value? Is there room at the place, is there room in the way you think about it for something to go from outside a core institutional value to become one?
DB: Oh, it happens all the time. Think about it. Think about the way the New York Times and traditional journalism regarded gay people 40 years ago. Right? The newsrooms I came up in, if people were gay, they didn't talk about it. There was an outside shift in America and a demand, and the best newspapers responded to it and changed. There was a time when if you were a gay at The New York Times you were treated like a pariah. That's not true now. So do I think that some of the stuff that develops outside as powerful American issues can come inside and become powerful American issues that change? Oh, my God. Of course.
Who would have thought that transgender rights 30 years ago, 10 years ago, would become a right that would be treated as a front page story in The New York Times and be the subject of editorials in The New York Times? If you leave the doors open and you understand that you're supposed to change with the times, of course. Civil rights... I mean The New York Times won plaudits for covering civil rights. Yeah. I think if you don't let the outside stuff in... Not all of it, but you got to. Sure.
ML: I mean, you're in this fascinating position where you got two years left. Right?
DB: It depends on how you count it. I turned 64 in September, and A.G. and I have to talk about it... I mean, I can leave anytime in my 65th year.
ML: So, you've got somewhere between two and three years.
Yeah. Something like that.
ML: You're in a position where there's an end that you can see to having this job, which I think we can just drop the arguably and say is the most powerful job, certainly in American newspapers and I think in American media. So my last question I think is like, A, what are you trying to do with that time? B, have these last couple of weeks changed that priority list for you in some way? And C, how much change can you affect? How much institutional change of this kind that we've been talking about can you make happen in somewhere between two and three years?
DB: Well, first off, I think I've accomplished the first thing I set out to accomplish. Six years ago, The New York Times didn't know how to build an audience and was in precarious shape. I think The New York Times is gaining audience like gangbusters and is truly a modern digital. I feel like I helped save and create the modern New York Times. I do think that the events of the last two weeks have helped crystallize for me what the next step is for me because I think it was only vague before that. I would like to help create a modern, diverse, New York Times where young, black, Latino, and Asian American people come into the newsroom, feel like they can have long careers here like me, and feel like they can affect the place. We're not there. If I could play a big role in getting us there, I would feel great about that.
ML: Do you have a sense of what that work looks like for you?
DB: Yeah. It means listening to a lot of painful discussions. It means encouraging people to say tough stuff. I've had some heartbreaking discussions with Black and Latino journalists over the last two weeks, people who feel left behind, people who feel that their careers weren't nurtured. That's been hard to hear. I'm their boss. It means listening to them, not defensively, just shutting up and listening, and then devising systems so that their careers can thrive. I think the first thing is to just let them talk and then do the work of putting people in positions where they have power. We've done a lot. There are now three Black people on the masthead of The New York Times, and that's important for people to see that. But I think I need to find ways to put more Black and Latino and Asian American journalists in positions of power where they can let their own backgrounds and outlooks influence what our coverage looks like.
ML: Well, whenever it is, two years, three years, whenever it is that you decide to step down, you got to come back on, and we'll talk about it, see how it went. Hey Dean, thank you so much for doing this, man.
DB: Oh, thank you, man. I don't always talk about these things. You got me to do it, and I appreciate it.