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.