A Different Playing Field

A Different Playing Field

What I learned from Dean Baquet’s speech was that the New York Times and other news media powerhouses operate on a whole different playing field from the rest of the industry.

“The only news organizations today that can do sustained investigative reporting are the big ones,” Baquet said. “I do think that the biggest argument to fight for the big news organizations to survive is because of investigative reporting.”

And I see his point. When it comes to taking on the federal government (in a story, say, about NSA surveillance), news behemoths like the New York Times have the advantage — I doubt that smaller organizations even the connections to get the story or the either the resources to tackle it. For instance: the case that Baquet shared with us, regarding the Guardian going to the Times about a U.S. national security-related tip because the former’s Washington bureau was inadequate to tackle an investigative story of that magnitude.

(Unrelated but relevant: Baquet’s anecdote reminded me of a Guardian post that I found interesting, titled “Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media,” in which the legendary investigative journalist rips on the New York Times.)

That left me wondering — if small organizations are at such a disadvantage, what exactly is their role in today’s news market? Do they just “follow the leader” and piggyback off of the investigative work of the New York Times?

My guess is “yes,” the smaller national news outlets will have to depend on the Times for investigative stories on the national and international scale. Similarly, the biggest outlets in the regional markets will take the lead on their respective regions’ investigative stories. And the best local papers will handle the biggest investigative stories in town?

(An exception to the rule: Propublica. I find it fascinating that it has developed a working business model based on its specialization in investigative journalism.)

To be honest, I have more questions now about state of journalism, not fewer, after having listened to Dean Baquet’s speech. I would have liked to hear more about the specific role that small newspapers will play in the future of the industry. I wanted to know what would determine the survival of one newspaper and the death of another. I think it would have been interesting to hear about the Times own struggles instead of just about what it has done well.

I appreciated Baquet’s positive outlook on the future of journalism but it kind of seems like a luxury for him, as the managing editor for what may well be one of the most secure newspapers in the country.


4 thoughts on “A Different Playing Field

  1. Hi Bobby!
    I have to say that after reading your post, I flipped my notes of the conference again and tried to find something that can fit your questions in the post, and then I sat down, read again and thought through the concerns you wrote. It’s a really good reflection.
    It is indeed, The New York Times that gives Baquet a real stage and wealth to say something that positive about the future journalism the investigative reports. During the conference, I may be a little bit overwhelmed worshiping for Baquet’s word which made me proud to be a journalism major student. But after your post, I may actually thought about the different situations here. From TV shows or novels(Like The Newsroom), I saw that after a difficult struggle with the company and maybe government, journalists will finally have the right choice on a investigative report. I really persuaded myself to believe that the size or the strength of a news organization don’t really matter the way they report. But I may be too naive on that.
    Again, that’s a great reflection after Baquet’s conference. Now I will do some research too, on your posted concerns.

  2. I really enjoy that you took on the topic of investigative reporting that Baquet addressed. Not many people seem to have done so, (myself included), simply because it may have been the toughest of situations that Baquet talked about. Investigative reporting is incredibly tough simply because of who, or what, you’re writing about. Whether it be a single person, or the entire government as a whole, you cannot take things lightly in any situation. You must truly be studious and know the situation inside and out before you tackle the reporting. I’m happy to see that you have more questions in the field of investigative reporting, because, honestly, I do too. I’ve always seen myself as simply a sports reporter, but after hearing what Baquet had to say, I may be interested in more further looking into investigation.

  3. Great conversation here, everyone. A few ideas for thought:

    — Local governments are notoriously corrupt; you can also argue that local politics has more direct effects on citizen’s lives than any other part of government. So I’d argue that the need for watchdogs in communities is very large … the problem is finding the resources and talent to do it. Anyone have ideas about that?

    — Sports is a great area for investigative journalism. I’m not going to get home tonight in time to watch the PBS Frontline documentary on concussions and the NFL, but I will read the book. Sports is WAY more than the toy department.


  4. I’m glad that I’m not the only one with questions about the state of investigative journalism, and Viola, I think I agree with your optimism about the ability of organizations to undertake investigations.

    I think, in the long-run, well-done investigative stories pay — both socially and financially. My guess as to why news organizations would shy away from doing an investigation is 1) the risk of losing your investment if the story falls through or 2) intimidation by the investigated party (which is probably less likely in the U.S.

    And Tyler, absolutely agree with you on the investigative journalism in sports comment. I’m not the biggest fan of ESPN but their investigative documentaries are phenomenal; if I were to ever work in sports I would want to do that.

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