NYT Executive Editor speaks at South by Southwest about modern journalism

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet speaks at South by Southwest on Saturday about coverage of the 2016 election and other challenges journalists face today. Photo credit: Penelope Shirey

By Kaitlyn Dehaven | Arts & Life Editor and Penelope Shirey | Lariat Photographer

The New York Times, praised by many yet called “the enemy of the American people” in a tweet by President Donald Trump, is at the center of a pivotal time for modern journalism.

The New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and The New York Times Media Columnist Jim Rutenberg spoke to a packed room at South By Southwest in Austin Saturday to discuss coverage of the 2016 election and challenges facing modern journalism.

Baquet said that the core values of the paper necessitate covering Trump without attacking him.

“Our job is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump; it’s to cover the hell out of Donald Trump,” Baquet said. “We’re supposed to cover the hell out of powerful people, and he’s the most powerful man in the world.”

Baquet also said that these next few years are vital for the life of reporting, and consumers are beginning to grasp the importance of this era.

“In comes the most compelling presidential election of a generation,” Baquet said.

With today’s political landscape where people are highly interested in current events, their digital-only subscriptions currently post record subscriber growth.

“We are preparing for the story of a generation,” Baquet said. “I think the next two years are going to be a historic moment in the life of news organizations.”

Even so, Baquet said the Times remains committed to their mission of covering the government intensely and thoroughly.

Doing this, he said, holds the government accountable as investigators for the benefit of the people.

He acknowledged that this extensive coverage comes at a fiscal cost, however. To counter this, he said that the importance of news makes journalism essential.

“I think you do it by continuing to report and break stories and make yourself indispensable,” Baquet said.

Rutenberg, serving as moderator for the informal interview, agreed with Baquet, speaking to the fact that the public is finally beginning to take notice of the cost of journalism.

“People understand now that real reporting takes money,” Rutenberg said.

This knowledge comes at a time when the business model for journalism is shifting away from the reliance on advertising of the previous century, Rutenberg said.

The Poynter Institute found in a study that between 2014 and 2015, advertising revenue for newspapers dropped 8 percent.

A decline in traditional advertising revenue for newspapers combined with a lack of news literacy in the younger generation puts newspapers in an unexpected position.

“One of the big shocks to the system is when you learn that people don’t understand that the dateline from Aleppo means that the New York Times journalist is in Aleppo risking her life to bring the news home,” Baquet said. “The next generation doesn’t understand the secret language of newspapers.”

Baquet said that at the center of all this lies the Times’ mission to inform people. Despite the readership not always fully understanding the complexity and the fact that the Times sometimes makes mistakes, Baquet said that this does not negate their drive to produce quality media.

“You have to hold on to the fact that you are striving for truth and you are doing your g—— best,” he said.