Dean Baquet has addressed more than one stunned newsroom over the years.
In November 2006 he gathered reporters together at the Los Angeles Times, standing on a desk so they could hear him. Then, his voice “thick with emotion”, according to the newspaper’s account, the editor told his staff that he had been fired. Several of the journalists present wept in response.
Mr Baquet was dismissed for speaking out against cuts at the Tribune-owned paper and refusing to fire reporters. But this week, when the New Orleans native addressed another newsroom, he had different information to impart. After the surprise removal of Jill Abramson, the first female editor of the New York Times, Mr Baquet, her deputy since 2011, had been chosen by the paper’s publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr to succeed her.
Mr Sulzberger has replaced the first female editor of the New York Times with its first African-American editor, blaming Ms Abramson’s exit on “an issue with management”. Multiple sources observed frostiness between the pair, while Ms Abramson also reportedly clashed with Mr Baquet over her plans to hire Janine Gibson, editor in chief of the Guardian’s US operation, as co-managing editor alongside Mr Baquet.
“The real story is Arthur and Jill never got along,” says one former colleague.
Mr Baquet, who reportedly had recently been approached with a job offer from Bloomberg, was the obvious choice to take the vacant editor’s chair, having come close to getting the job in 2011 when Ms Abramson was hired. He is well-liked by reporters and editors who have worked under him. “Dean is a prince,” says one former colleague. “They should have given him the job from the start.”
His family has deep roots in the New Orleans restaurant scene: his father, Edward, owned a restaurant, as does his brother, Wayne, whose establishment is renowned for its Creole soul food.
The careers of Mr Baquet and his other brother, Terry, followed a different path, with both men choosing the literary, rather than culinary, arts.
Mr Baquet received his start in journalism working at the Times-Picayune and then the Chicago Tribune, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for investigative reporting: his story on corruption at Chicago’s city council prompted reform of the city’s zoning laws.
He went on to join the New York Times as a reporter, before being appointed editor of the Los Angeles Times. He returned to the New York Times in 2007 as its Washington bureau chief.
As editor of the New York Times, the pressure will be on Mr Baquet to unite the newsroom following Ms Abramson’s departure and hasten the paper’s transition to a business model that puts more emphasis on digital publishing.
Uniting the newsroom should not take long, according to another former colleague to have worked under him. Mr Baquet, the former colleague says, was “a fantastic editor . . . and a smart, passionate and engaged newsroom leader who was adored by reporters”.
But the colleague says that Mr Baquet had been slow to respond to the digital changes that swept the newspaper industry – refusing to introduce blogs during his stint as editor of the Los Angeles Times, for example.
“He is a very old school reporter and journalist,” says the former colleague. “But he was terrified of these new technologies. We would have meetings about big projects and as soon as someone asked if it could have an online component he would say: ‘I have to go.’”
A current colleague says Mr Baquet has since warmed up to the web. “He’s well aware of what he doesn’t know and what he needs to know.”
The New York Times has a rising digital circulation, and new initiatives such as “native advertising” – in essence, online advertorial copy – have become more important to its revenue mix.
Mr Baquet has faced tough challenges before, not least standing up to cost-conscious publishers at the Los Angeles Times. Adapting to the digital future – and finding a way for the New York Times to thrive in it – will be his biggest test.
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