Every day, from Times Square in the Big Apple, Dean Baquet, and Marc Lacey – New York Times Executive Editor, and National Editor, respectively- along with hundreds of journalists offer a unique look at what happens in the world like few other papers can do.
According to a memo that Baquet circulated after announcing the goals of the organization for 2020, at its peak – in 2016 - during the election cycle the newspaper reached about 200 million monthly users. That year, the New York Times journalists reported from the ground in more than 150 countries, in essence, 80 percent of the planet.
Until last June, according to the company’s quarterly results disclosed to the investment market, the Times had 3.8 million subscribers, a little more than the population of Puerto Rico. Of those, 2.9 million are digital subscriptions.
Therefore, it is not uncommon for media organizations around the world to seek answers in the Times to overcome the fall in advertising and print subscriptions.
What is atypical is that the editors of a newspaper leave the newsroom to talk about what they do and to be willing to be questioned. But Baquet and Lacey - both day-to-day reporters before becoming editors - are convinced that it is time to leave behind the "arrogance" that, for years, characterized journalists and listen to the people.
And that happened last week, when Baquet and Lacey accepted an invitation from Luis Alberto Ferré Rangel –Chief Social Innovation Officer at Grupo Ferré Rangel and Editorial Advisor at GFR Media- to reflect on the Times’ coverage on Hurricane Maria during the last year.
As part of their visit to the island, Baquet and Lacey talked to El Nuevo Día about Puerto Rico, overseeing the White House under the presidency of Donald Trump and the future of journalism.
"I think this is a historic moment in the political life of the country and in the journalistic life of The New York Times and other news organizations. I think about the people and what we want to achieve and that's why Marc and I left the newsroom to listen to the people," said Baquet.
Baquet knows well what it is to survive a hurricane. A native of the city of New Orleans, in Louisiana, his mother lost her home when the city's dams collapsed due to Katrina in 2005.
Lacey, covered the earthquake that shook Los Angeles when he worked there for the L.A. Times and, in 2010, he covered the earthquake in Haiti. It was not until 2012 when he learned about living without electricity for a week, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York.
For Baquet and Lacey, neither the fact that some people try to "score some points" in their political cause nor the reluctance of Governor Ricardo Rosselló to criticize President Trump has been a surprise because the same has happened with other disasters.
Baquet explained that in the case of Katrina, the United States knew that New Orleans - the city that everyone considers as a place to party - is one of the poorest cities in the country.
In Puerto Rico, Lacey said, the prolonged lack of electricity and the doubts regarding post-Maria contracting processes let us see the "dysfunctionality" in which the island was submerged before the disaster.
Our power grid was in bad condition, but when you read these stories about what happened before with Katrina and what happened with other disasters, what does that say about the United States as a country, as the first economy in the world?
"It is a powerful reminder that the United States, even in times of economic prosperity, is a country with deep divisions in terms of people who own a lot and those who do not have much ... America is a place where many people live in a bubble and they do not have to think about what happens in Louisiana or Puerto Rico," Baquet said.
Hurricane Maria is not the Times' first approach to Puerto Rico. For years, the newspaper has been covering the island’s economic crisis that, for Baquet, bears some resemblance to the financial challenges that other states are experiencing. That reality, admitted the 1988 Pulitzer winner, has been overshadowed by the economic strength of the United States.
According to Baquet, although the economy shows strength, the truth is that not all the Americans have had a slice of that strength and that is one of the pending issues of the Times.
How can the positions of the White House in commercial matters and the handling of foreign relations change the role played by the United States at a global level?
"We have written about this, but we must write more. There has been a fundamental change. This is the first administration that has truly sought to see foreign policy from an economic lens," Baquet said.
According to Baquet, the issue is not to be taken lightly, and within the White House there are those who argue that the relationship with North Korea or with Europe cannot be seen with the mentality of a businessman, rather it is necessary to achieve a balance considering aspects of national security.
"There is a lot of tension in the White House," Baquet said.
On Trump's defense, said Baquet, there are those who argue that the United States did not do enough to maintain its economic agenda at a global level and that the issue of national security had more importance than necessary.
On covering Trump, you are overseeing, fact-checking data, that is, making pure journalism or has that made you the political opposition?
"We do not want to be the political opposition to Donald Trump or any other administration. That's not the role of The New York Times. The long-term problem, if you become a political force instead of a journalistic force, is for someone to come to power and let's say, to be a liberal democrat, then what are we going to do?" Baquet said, explaining that political dynamics will always move between someone liberal or conservative.
"Our job is to be very aggressive covering whoever is in the White House ... We asked tough questions to Barack Obama when he dramatically expanded his drone program and killed several civilians in the process. Maybe, we did not ask so much when the White House of George W. Bush decided to go to war in Iraq," said Baquet.
In the case of Bill Clinton, Baquet recalled the moment in which at an editorial meeting, the former President complained about the work of the Times, which was marked with the phrase "Tough Love" an editor wrote. To this, Clinton pointed out that until that moment, he had only received the "tough" part and not the "love" part.
Baquet acknowledges that social networks have changed the way newspapers work, but said that "Twitter is not the world, but a small piece of the country with strong opinions," and said that anyone who wants to do journalism from that social network should seek another profession.
To questions about how Trump has changed the reporters work in the federal capital, Baquet indicated that the President "generates a lot of news," not only because of his tweets at any time, but because of the large number of regulatory changes that he endorses, for his travel schedule and for "the kind of chaos" in which he has placed his administration.
"It's a kind of great wild and crazy novel, and that requires a lot of people to report it," Baquet said.
According to Lacey, at present, Washington has more reporters than it has ever had covering a President and the coverage even ends up in the financial section and other sections of the newspaper.
If Trump coverage is so important, will not there be an opportunity to collaborate with your competitor in DC?
"You mean the Post. Collaborating with them?," Baquet answered laughing. "No".
"Competition leads to better coverage," said Lacey, adding that this dynamic has resulted in a better reporting work on Trump´s administration than what may arise from joining forces.
"Also, it would look like we're trying to become a combined force against Trump. It would seem bad and it would look bad, "said Baquet. "I want them (The Post) to make progress. I was glad that Jeff Bezos bought them, but I want to compete with them. "
For Baquet and Lacey, the questioning to the Times do not bother them. What worries them is what Trump´s attacks mean to the press.
"I think Trump is hurting the country, when he asks not to read us, that everything we write is fake. It is surprising that a President of the United States speaks this way because it undermines one of the pillars of democracy," Baquet said.
Baquet believes that journalism as an institution is at its best, because at present, a child can read any newspaper in the world and have a broader vision.
"The bad news is that the business model is in a crisis and if it collapses in its entirety, it will take away many important journalistic forces, local news organizations," said Baquet.
"Every time there are more Americans who do not have a news organization covering what happens in their communities and that is bad for the country and for democracy. Therefore, the search for a model that makes sense is urgent," said Lacey. "If people spent on news what they spend on coffee, we would be a healthier democracy."
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