In Lionizing NYT's Baquet, Press Ignore Childish Insubordination Which Led to His Firing at the LA Times

At the Politico, concerning Dean Baquet, the new Executive Editor at the New York Times, Dylan Byers wonders: "How will ... (he) handle the necessary digital transformation facing 'All the news that’s fit to print.'?" The better question is: How will he handle the financial constraints Times management will almost inevitably have to impose on a stagnant if not shrinking newsroom operation?

To say that Baquet didn't deal with such matters well when he was in a similar position at the Los Angeles Times eight years ago is an understatement. The working press seems to consider him some kind of hero for standing up to senior management at the Tribune Company, the paper's owner. The fact is that his childish, passive-aggressive posturing made his firing inevitable, and that he should have been sent packing months earlier than he was.


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Here is how the New York Times covered the heated situation at the LA Times in September 2006 (bolds are mine throughout this post):

The editor of The Los Angeles Times appears to be in a showdown with the paper’s owner, the Tribune Company, over job cuts in the newsroom.

In a highly unusual move, Dean P. Baquet, who was named editor last year, was quoted yesterday in his own newspaper as saying he was defying the paper’s corporate parent in Chicago and would not make the cuts it requested.

The paper’s publisher, Jeffrey M. Johnson, said he agreed with Mr. Baquet. “Newspapers can’t cut their way into the future,” he told the paper.

The number of jobs at stake is unclear but the paper, the fourth largest in the country, has eliminated more than 200 positions over the last five years from an editorial staff that now numbers about 940.

“I am not averse to making cuts,” Mr. Baquet told the paper. “But you can go too far, and I don’t plan to do that.”

The paper reported that Scott C. Smith, president of the Tribune Publishing division, had asked the paper’s executives to come up with a plan for trimming their budgets, but when Mr. Smith visited Los Angeles late last month, they had produced no such plan.

Mr. Baquet “made his opposition to further cuts clear and said there was no need for further discussion,” the paper reported.

Let's stop right there. As I wrote at my home blog at the time:

By producing no plan when asked, Baquet gives lie to the “not averse to making cuts” statement. He had his chance to come up with something, and didn’t.

He should have resigned by now if he really thought the company was going too far, as should have Mr. Johnson. But they are acting as if their newspaper is some kind of indispensable public utility.

The insubordinate Baquet and Johnson instead chose to continue getting paychecks from their evil, greedy employer, took their complaints public, metaphorically barricaded themselves in their offices, and dared the Tribune Company to fire them.

Baquet was fired two months later. He deserved it, but on the day he openly defied his bosses, not months later.

As to the possibility that Baquet may have mellowed in the meantime, I give you the first three paragraphs of a story written by the Politico's Byers just over a year ago:

Turbulence at The Times

One Monday morning in April, Jill Abramson called Dean Baquet into her office to complain. The executive editor of The New York Times was upset about the paper’s recent news coverage — she felt it wasn’t “buzzy” enough, a source there said — and placed blame on Baquet, her managing editor. A debate ensued, which gave way to an argument.

Minutes later, Baquet burst out of Abramson’s office, slammed his hand against a wall and stormed out of the newsroom. He would be gone for the rest of the day, absent from the editors’ daily 4 p.m. meeting, at which he is a fixture.

“I feel bad about that,” Baquet told POLITICO in a recent interview. “The newsroom doesn’t need to see one of its leaders have a tantrum.”

But that didn't stop you from having one and going AWOL, did it, Dean?

So someone who has clearly been a troubling and disruptive presence is now in charge at the New York Times. If the newsroom-executive suite relationship gets even rockier than it was under the now-departed Jill Abramson, Times management will have no one but themselves to blame.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.