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Joe Kahn to succeed Dean Baquet as New York Times executive editor

Baquet, the paper’s first Black executive editor, will step down after an eight-year period of journalistic ambition and rapid growth in digital readership

Dean Baquet, left, will retire as executive editor of the New York Times and be replaced by Managing Editor Joseph F. Kahn. (Celeste Sloman for the New York Times)
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After an eight-year tenure, Dean Baquet will step down as executive editor of the New York Times and will be succeeded by Managing Editor Joseph F. Kahn, the newspaper announced Tuesday.

Baquet, who turned 65 last fall, is departing at what has become the paper’s traditional retirement age for executive editors. He was the first Black man to serve in the job, ascending to the role under tumultuous circumstances in May 2014, after the abrupt dismissal of Jill Abramson, the paper’s first female top editor.

He will step down June 14, the paper said, and hand over the top job to Kahn, 57, who has most recently served as the paper’s managing editor.

A generally popular and even-tempered leader, Baquet also once served as the top editor of the Los Angeles Times but was pushed out after a year and a half, in 2006, after he refused to make staff cuts that he feared would damage the newspaper’s journalism.

Rejoining the New York Times, where he had previously worked in the 1990s, he oversaw a historic run of journalistic accomplishment and influence after taking charge of the newsroom, which grew significantly in size under his stewardship. When Baquet became editor, the Times boasted approximately 800,000 digital-only subscribers; now, it has 6.8 million paid digital subscribers. Under his leadership, the Times took home 18 Pulitzer Prizes.

In recent months, Kahn had emerged as the overwhelming favorite for the top job, though Baquet had probably put his succession in motion when he elevated him to his current role as second-in-command in September 2016. “I very much think that Joe should be a candidate to succeed me,” Baquet said at the time.

Kahn, who joined the Times in 1998 after stints at the Wall Street Journal and Dallas Morning News, has the kind of résumé that has traditionally lined the path to masthead jobs at the paper. The Harvard graduate covered international economics and trade from the Times’s Washington bureau and Wall Street from the business desk in the city before serving as Beijing bureau chief and then rising through the ranks of management on the foreign staff.

“Dean told me recently that he believed that Joe was more prepared than any editor he’s ever seen to take over a global newsroom that’s grown in size, complexity and ambition,” publisher A.G. Sulzberger wrote in a note to Times staff Tuesday.

In particular, he cited Kahn’s leadership in launching the Times’s new Chinese-language site, promoting the paper’s diversity efforts and “our push to become a fully digital-first news operation,” with new global news hubs in Seoul and London that help the paper report and publish around-the-clock.

The Times did not make Kahn available for an interview. In a statement, Kahn said he was “deeply humbled to lead a global newsroom of immensely talented journalists.”

Many observers see Kahn’s promotion as a reaffirmation of the traditional Times way of doing things. “It’s a continuation of the things that should be continued — the values, ambition, global reach and seriousness of mission,” said Peter Goodman, global economics reporter for the Times, who has known Kahn professionally for 30 years. “But I have no doubt that he thinks about the audience, and [about] new and better ways to reach them.”

The reserved Kahn has been perceived by some colleagues as aloof, far less likely than the gregarious Baquet to roam the newsroom. One prominent reporter said he has still never met him after 15 years at the paper.

But Bill Keller, the paper’s executive editor from 2003 to 2011, called him “thoughtful and contemplative.” Kahn “doesn’t jump into a conversation until he’s sort of heard the other side of the argument,” he added. “I like his sense of humor, which is extremely dry.”

Kahn has two sons with his wife Shannon Wu, a former World Bank staffer whom he met while stationed in Beijing — a period that many colleagues say epitomizes his journalism bona fides.

While bureau chief, Kahn marshaled the resources of the Times to try to free a staff researcher, Zhao Yan, who was arrested in 2004 after being accused of disclosing state secrets, said former Times foreign correspondent and columnist Nicholas Kristof.

“It was largely invisible to the public, but to me it was a deep reflection of his values and making sure that we protect our staff, including the staff who don’t always get recognition,” Kristof said Tuesday.

“He has a skeptical eye that serves him well in this trending-obsessed news environment,” said Abramson, who promoted Kahn to international editor early in her time at the top of the masthead. “He’s also a lovely person. He’s no-BS and generous to colleagues.”

The newspaper also said that Baquet is not retiring from journalism but will remain at the paper to “lead a forthcoming Times initiative,” the details of which will come later.

A native of New Orleans who grew up in an apartment at the back of his family’s restaurant, Baquet got his start at his hometown Times-Picayune before moving to the Chicago Tribune, where in 1988 he won a Pulitzer Prize for investigating waste and corruption by the local city council. Joining the Times in 1990, he was named the paper’s national editor five years later. In a recent interview with the New Yorker, Baquet said he never aspired to run a newspaper but that he was “essentially ordered to become an editor.”

By the time he became executive editor in 2014, the business model for newspapers was in question, and the newsroom shed dozens of veteran editors and writers through extensive buyouts and layoffs that year.

But Baquet was able to expand the size of the newsroom in subsequent years, putting more emphasis on investigative reporting in new forms of journalism.

During the four years of the Trump administration, Baquet, along with his close friend and former colleague Martin Baron, then the executive editor of The Washington Post, served as something like the conscience of the journalism industry, encouraging his reporters to pursue what he called “the story of a generation.”

“Our job is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump,” Baquet said in a speech in March 2017, echoing a similar mantra repeated by Baron. “It’s to cover the hell out of Donald Trump.”

Baron told The Post on Tuesday that, as a competitor, he admired Baquet’s achievements. And “as a friend, I have treasured the occasions when we compared notes on the unique challenges of leading newsrooms through commercial and societal upheaval as well as venomous attacks from powerful individuals, including a former president,” Baron said. “Journalism and the country are better for his leadership.”

Baquet pushed back on Trump’s attacks on the press, which he said put the lives of journalists at risk. He demurred, though, when pressed on whether he thought Trump was a racist, rejecting the use of “labels” and arguing instead that the reporting should speak for itself.

“I grew up having a deep belief in reporting — that you prove it,” he told the New Yorker. “I think some people have misinterpreted that as my being too slow to take certain positions, but I have a skeptical mind and I believe deeply in reporting.”

He resisted what he said was the preference of some Times subscribers for anti-Trump coverage. “Our readers and some of our staff cheer us when we take on Donald Trump, but they jeer at us when we take on Joe Biden,” he told employees in a 2019 town hall meeting. “They sometimes want us to pretend that he was not elected president, but he was elected president.”

Some critics challenged Baquet’s approach. Adam Davidson, who worked as an economics writer for the Times between 2011 and 2016, argued that the Times promoted a kind of both-sidesism by prioritizing the appearance of neutrality over a dedication to the truth. “I think it’s been disastrous from a coverage standpoint and from an organizational standpoint,” Davidson said. “To get to the appearance of neutrality, you have to do violence to the truth, which is the opposite of what journalists should do.”

In 2018, the Times and The Washington Post shared the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for its coverage of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible connections with the Trump campaign and presidency. The following year, the paper took home the prize in explanatory reporting for an 18-month investigation of Trump’s finances, based on a large trove of leaked tax documents and financial records. (Trump sued the Times in September 2021 over the stories, arguing that the paper’s journalists pushed Trump’s niece, Mary L. Trump, to provide them with the documents in violation of a legal agreement she had been party to.) Under Baquet, the Times won the Pulitzer Prize medal for public service for coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a competitive industry, Baquet stood out for being almost universally well-liked, though his tenure was not without controversy. Following the 2016 presidential election, the Times was accused of underplaying a late-October 2016 revelation about the FBI investigating possible Trump ties to Russia, and potentially overplaying coverage of then-candidate Hillary Clinton using a private email server while serving as secretary of state. When the Times’s then-public editor suggested as much, Baquet disputed her argument, calling it “a bad column.”

In December 2020, Baquet took a portion of the blame after a Times review concluded that an acclaimed podcast, “Caliphate,” did not meet the newspaper’s journalistic standards. The paper determined that the podcast relied too heavily on a self-proclaimed former Islamic State fighter who was found to have fabricated his claims. While calling it an “institutional failing,” Baquet said he should have applied more scrutiny to the podcast.

There were also the clashes between younger, more progressively minded Times staffers and more veteran institutionalists that occurred during Baquet’s reign. “A deeper challenge for him has been criticism that’s come from a younger generation of journalists who, unlike previous generations of journalists who’ve joined the Times, don’t think the way that Times people have thought about such issues as objectivity,” said Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University.

Baquet has acknowledged that the staff of the Times is still less diverse than he would like. Baquet, Sulzberger and chief executive Meredith Kopit Levien told employees in early 2021 that an in-depth analysis and extensive interviews with employees had convinced them that “the Times is a difficult environment for many of our colleagues, from a wide range of backgrounds.”

But Bill Baker, a staff telecommunications coordinator who serves as chair of the 1,300-member New York Times Guild, said that Baquet has made diversity a priority. “He’s definitely trying,” said Baker. Noting that “President Obama wanted to be the president of the United States, not the Black president of the United States,” Baker said he similarly thinks “Dean wanted to be the editor of the newsroom, and not the Black editor of the newsroom. They didn’t shy away from their Blackness but didn’t put that in the forefront of who they were.”

Occasionally self-deprecating and willing to admit past failings (“I don’t think any executive editor has owned up to more mistakes than I have,” he said in 2019), Baquet has also been pugnacious in his defense of the institution. When a California college professor accused Baquet in a 2015 Facebook post of “cowardice” for a decision not to publish the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that precipitated the massacre of journalists working for the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, Baquet replied in the comments, calling the professor a self-righteous “asshole.” Asked later by student journalists at Oberlin College why he resorted to an insult, Baquet replied with a laugh that “he was an asshole.” He once punched a hole in a wall while serving as the Times’s Washington bureau chief when a story he was advocating for did not make the front page, Politico reported in 2013. “I’m passionate,” Baquet told the New Yorker. “I’m passionate about stories. I’m passionate about coverage. I don’t like to be pushed around.”

As for what’s next, Baquet said in February that he is not ready to retire. “I have a lot of energy. I’m healthy,” he told the New Yorker. “Journalism took a nineteen-year-old kid with not a lot of money and transformed his life. I owe some things to journalism. I wouldn’t mind thinking about ways to pay back some of that debt, but I’m not going to learn to play the ukulele or anything like that.”

Paul Farhi contributed to this story.

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