The New York Times plans to put a renewed focus on truth and transparency, moving forward as the publisher reassesses its influential role in the media landscape under Trump administration. Speaking at a SXSW panel titled “Covering POTUS: A Conversation with the Failing NYT,” executive editor of the New York Times Dean Baquet discussed with The Drum what it’s like leading a newspaper that the US President Trump routinely refers to as “failing” and “fake news.”
“One of my hardest management jobs in this campaign is to make sure that the New York Times sort of holds onto its core,” he said. “Our job is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump. It’s to cover the hell out of Donald Trump. We’re supposed to cover the hell out of powerful people and he’s the most powerful man in the world.”
Baquet said it was “jarring” when President Trump tweeted last month that the news media is the “enemy of the American people. I thought that was an outrageous comment by the president,” he said. “I thought it was sort of designed to undermine the press. Of course we’re not the enemy of the people. We have a role in society, which is to ask tough questions of the president.”
When asked why he thinks Trump has a particular obsession with calling out the New York Times, Baquet shrewdly said that he thinks it might have to do with Trump’s desire to conquer the elite of New York. “I think that Donald Trump is a guy whose family made its fortune in Queens, which in the anthropology and geography of New York is sort of an outer borough, ” he observes. “I think he came to Manhattan and he really set his sights on building Manhattan. I think he really wanted to conquer the elite of New York. And I think in his mind the New York Times sort of represents, for better or for worse, some of the elite of New York.”
Even though the paper’s relationship with Trump is anything but cordial, Baquet said he’s okay with the current state of affairs. “I like this relationship we have, in a weird way, with the president,” he said. “The most natural state of affairs between the news media and the president is tension. It should be tense. We shouldn’t be friendly.”
To ensure that the New York Times is aptly prepared to cover the Trump administration, Baquet said that the publisher has taken a number of steps to make sure that it can deliver high quality and truthful reporting to its readers. “We’ve been hiring like crazy since the election,” he said. “We've hired three really well-known investigative reporters. We’ve bulked up our White House coverage. We’ve hired more business people. We are preparing for the story of a generation.”
He also said that the Times plans to be more transparent in general about what their reporters are up to and how they go about getting stories. He said that he believes transparency is particularly important nowadays since he thinks that many readers - particularly younger ones - may not realise how difficult it is to produce good journalism. The next generation doesn’t quite understand the secret language of print newspapers,” he said. “One of the big shocks to the system is when you learn that people don’t understand that the dateline from Aleppo means that a New York Times journalist is in Aleppo risking her life to bring news home.”
During the panel, Baquet also discussed why he thinks that the next two years are going to be a defining time not just for the New York Times but for journalism in general. “I think the next two years are going to be a historic moment in the life of news organisations,” he said. “The combination of the economic realities that are sort of forcing their way in and a president who is leading a revolution in Washington makes this the most compelling political story since the way the United States changed after 9/11. There are going to be 20 books written about the next two years in American journalism."