Friday, February 16, 2007

Dean Baquet Keeps Firing At Tribune Co.

Regardless of what he accomplishes from here on, and I have no doubt Dean Baquet has a distinguished career awaiting with the New York Times, nothing he ever does is likely to be as much service to journalism as his rebellion against the Tribune Co. at the L.A. Times.

Baquet has not forgotten that episode, and neither can any of the rest of us. His name has become synonymous with defense of quality journalism at a difficult time for newspapers.

So interviews with Baquet are worth reading, and the interview he granted last Friday to Karen Brown Dunlap, president of the Poynter Institute, might, in particular, be inscribed in gold.

Much of what he said bears repeating time and again as we consider the future of our trade.

"I'm not opposed to cutting," Baquet said. "Sometimes that's necessary, but resist some cuts. Don't blindly say yes or no. Think hard about cuts. Go back to your publisher and make the case for fewer cuts...

"The case that I tried to make, that Jim O'Shea continues, is that we don't need to cut if we're trying to produce two newspapers, one online.

"...Get out of all the corporate meetings and get into the newsroom. Many editors have gotten caught up in the office spending time on budgets. Newsrooms want to be led...

"My advice to editors is go edit. If there was ever a time people want to be led on news, it is now. Take a day or two out of the week and put a moratorium on the word 'revenue.'

"...While getting excited about the election campaign, we still have to fully cover the war."

Baquet acknowledged that he gets "a little sad when I think about the future of the L.A. Times.. I just worry that Tribune will keep cutting back, and they will. I wish Tribune would focus more on building."

Also, Baquet made the point in the interview that newspaper readership is actually increasing, if you take into account all those people now reading the content of papers online. The thing, he said, reporters have to do is to keep breaking great stories.

Baquet is now a national leader of journalists. The man who fired him, David Hiller, will drop into the ash bin of newspaper history. In fact, he already has.

There was a hint in the interview that O'Shea, who replaced Baquet as editor, may be following other Chicagoans who came out here and "went native," that he too has begun to resist Tribune cutting. Let's hope this is the case. I did like O'Shea's appointment of the able Davan Maharaj as the new L.A. Times business editor. But almost every week, there are signs of more fluff and less news in the Times.

To give just a few examples, the Times sports section, for the first time in many years to my knowledge, didn't send anyone to cover the Australian Open, and its coverage of the Los Angeles bid for the 2016 Olympics has been paltry. Then, in the shootings that killed five people at a Salt Lake City mall, the Times dropped the story after just two days, without ever having reported that the shooter was a Muslim Bosnian refugee who was a survivor of the Srebenica massacre. It failed to report this morning that the Bosnian Ambassador to Washington had come out to Salt Lake City to apologize for the shootings and commisurate with the victims. Meanwhile, such new sections as Envelope are mainly worthless. Under O'Shea, regardless what Baquet said, the Times has been diminished. That's the one thing Baquet said that I disagreed with, although he really did not elaborate. It was just a hint.

The departure of such outstanding writers and editors at the Times as John Balzar, Alissa Rubin and Vernon Loeb, can only be viewed as alarming. If cuts continue, such departures can only continue.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, and they just keep replacing them with low cost bloggers.

They traded Alissa Rubin for Elizabeth Snead.

2/19/2007 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Despite Baquet's best efforts, Tribune diminished the Times when he was there. They undermined the top editors and forced cuts on two occasions so far. After eliminating some layout positions in late '05, they're advertising for openings.

2/22/2007 11:07 PM  

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