Photo from The Daily Beast
The Lion recently sat down with Dean Baquet, the first black Executive Editor of the New York Times. He studied English at Columbia from 1974 to 1978. In 1988, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting on the Chicago City Council. He sat down with us to talk about how he became a journalist, what a typical day at the New York Times office is like, and more.
In the past, you’ve said that journalism was an accident for you. Can you tell us a little more about that?
First, I went to Columbia accidentally. I went to high school in New Orleans and I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college. One of my best friends applied to Columbia; I had never even heard of Columbia to be honest but he encruraged me to apply. So we both applied and I got in.
When I got to Columbia, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to be an English major. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a professor, but I had a vague sense that I might want to be a writer and it stayed that way for the first couple years.
The summer between junior and senior year, I got an internship at an afternoon paper in New Orleans, because I was looking for a job. It was easy to get internships then, because there were a lot more newspapers and I just fell in love with it.I just thought it was so much fun. That’s how I got into journalism. It was an accident, and part of it was that I missed home and wanted to spend a longer time in New Orleans, but it wasn’t because I set out to become a journalist.
I noticed that you really seem to target corruption as a topic when you were a reporter. What drew you to that topic?
I think that I’m one of those people who’s always a little skeptical of powerful people. One of the big roles of news organizations is to protect the powerless in the face of unbridled power. And if you’re a reporter in a big city, then those powerful institutions besides business are big government. That’s why I was drawn to investigating government and power.
You’ve said that you’re a reporter at heart. How do you bring that passion to your editing?
I’m happiest when I’m thinking about stories, when I’m thinking about chasing stories, and when I’m thinking about how to do big stories. That’s the reporter’s sensibility in me. And when I walk around here thinking about stories and talking to reporters about coverage and I think that’s the reporter in me coming out. That’s the part of me I like best professionally. It influences the way I think about the news, coverage, and how to run the newsroom because I’m drawn to the stories like the reporters are.Continue Reading..