Newly departed New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, center, with former executive editor Bill Keller at right and Abramson’s replacement as executive editor, Dean Baquet, at left.

In accepting his new job as executive editor of the New York Times after the ouster of Jill Abramson, Dean Baquet told his colleagues:

It is humbling to be asked to lead the only newsroom in the country that is actually better than it was a generation ago, a newsroom that approaches the world with wonder and ambition every day.

How clever to mix the word “humbling” into an affirmation of such bare arrogance.

To disassemble Baquet’s statement requires a look at what a “generation” means. One definition reads, “the number of years that usually pass between the birth of a person and the birth of that person’s children.” For some folks, that could be as few as 20 years and perhaps much more. Let’s just place it at 30 years, meaning that Baquet is saying that the New York Times is the only newsroom that is better than it was in 1984.

That means Baquet dissed not only the late A.M. Rosenthal, who served as executive editor of the New York Times from 1977 to 1986, but all manner of rival news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and so on. Not to mention newsrooms that compete in other media, such as radio and television. In 1984, CNN was four years old. Could it have nailed the MH370 story if it had happened in the mid-’80s?

Silly questions, perhaps. But silly, too, was Baquet’s boast, a signal that with the changing of another guard at the New York Times, there will be continuity in terms of institutional self-regard.

Surely, Baquet’s boast references the hard times that have visited newspapers and other media properties over the past decade. What he apparently doesn’t recognize is that the rise of the Internet and the hollowing-out of traditional business models have forced newsrooms to innovate, to work harder, to get more from their resources, to declare a presence on various platforms. Many, many newsrooms in the country are better than they were a generation ago, as Baquet will discover in his new job. That doesn’t even consider all those news outlets that didn’t exist a generation ago.

At a newspaper famous for its smart editing, it’s a wonder that Baquet’s assertion wasn’t changed to read, simply:

It is humbling to be asked to lead a newsroom that’s always striving to get better, a newsroom that approaches the world with wonder and ambition every day.

 

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.