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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  May 27, 2017 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT

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- [narrator] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by klru's producers circle. ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin, texas community. - i'm evan smith. he's a pulitzer prize winning journalist who is the executive editor of the new york times. the top of the masthead job at the most important and iconic news organization in the world. he's dean baquet, this is overheard. let's be honest, is this about the ability to learn, or is this about the experience of not having been taught properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa? but you caused him to sleep in it. you saw a problem and over time, took it on. let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you gonna run for president? i think i just got an f from you.
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dean baquet, welcome. - thank you, it's good to here. - you don't look failing to me. - (laughs) that's because i worked out at the gym. - is that why, because you're kind of pumped up? what is the president's glitch? what is his problem with you? all he's done for the last few months, even back into the campaign, was get on twitter, get on the stump, and attack the new york times, attack the new york times. i mean, he's attacked everybody. he's attacked the media. but he seems to have a special problem with you. - i have two psychoanalytic thoughts about it. - [evan] bring it. - the first is, you have to remember the president is a guy whose family made its fortune in queens. i think that what he did, his biggest accomplishment in the family business, was coming and taking manhattan. i think he really wanted, and he made a lot of money building apartment buildings for people who probably could not have gotten them. who were rich, but couldn't get into fancy, upper east side buildings. i think he wants to be loved
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by the new york city establishment, the manhattan establishment, rather, and i think the new york times, in his mind, is part of that establishment. - this is queens versus new york, manhattan. bridge, bus and tunnel problem? - but i'll add one more thing. i think it's also because he doesn't quite understand the role of the media. - i think that's true. that's obvious. - i think we're a surrogate for that. i think going after the new york times is a surrogate for, he goes after us the most. we're the most visible, and because he's in new york, he reads it. i think when he goes after us, he's actually going after the washington post, he's going after all media. - you're the battering ram. - i think that's right. - the critique comes down to three things, basically, two of which you own and one the paper really owns more institutionally. it's that you're biased, it's that you're inaccurate, and that you're failing in the business sense. let's just deal with the first two initially. is the new york times biased? do you have it in for him? - no, not at all. - it is possible that people could perceive that you have it in for him? - no, i mean, during the campaign, we got beat up a lot
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by people who didn't like our coverage of bernie sanders, people who didn't like our coverage of hillary clinton. - and that's longstanding. - that's right. - you guys were hating on hillary before hating on hillary was cool, right? - we can argue about that. - but that's been the knock. - that's the knock. - you're equal opportunity offenders. - by the way, being an equal opportunity offender is sort of the height of being aggressive journalism, right? - if everybody hates you, you're doing something right. - i don't think he's got any point about us being biased against him. look, we're tough, we're aggressive. i think this is a guy who thrived in a world of tabloid new york journalism, where he could leak stories about his latest, you know, his dating life, or he could exaggerate the size of his buildings, and he had a press corps-- - i'm glad you said buildings. (dean laughs) they were gonna knock us off the air in the panhandle. that's good. he can't do that with you. you're not gonna be susceptible. - he's playing in a completely different league. he's a guy who built his name, to be frank,
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manipulating tabloid journalism. now he's in the setting of washington, with reporters who ask hard questions, go back and check, have expertise in government, business, politics, and it's a different game. - [evan] this frustrates him. - it makes him nuts. - you know that the concept of the new york times is liberal did not begin with donald j. trump, right? this is not something that you're just hearing for the first time. why do you think people have said that over the years? - i think part of it is that the new york times is in new york city, and i think that that new york city, there's no question new york city influences the outlook of the new york times, the way we cover culture, the way we cover business, the way we cover sports. and our editorial page is certainly liberal. i do think that being in new york sometimes affects our coverage in ways that i always try, and my whole staff tries to push away from. - this is the coastal elite problem. - yeah, we're in the city that's the capital of the coastal elite. and i think it is in my interest, and it's in the interest of the mission of the new york times, to do everything in our power
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to not be a coastal elite institution. by the way, i'm from new orleans. - that's a coast of sorts. - what's left of a coast. i certainly don't think of someone who was born a coastal elite. - you're actually from the part of the country that we all think we need to be paying more attention to. - that's right. - is there a flipside to this which is, it's ok to be a coastal elite? maybe we should defend the poor, beleaguered coastal elites. do you need to be a paper for everybody? - you don't need to be a paper for everybody. you certainly don't need to be a paper loved by everybody. i actually don't want my paper to be loved by everybody. but i do think you need to be a paper that respects everybody. my only demand, it's not that people love the new york times. my only demand, and my only drive, is that people outside of new york don't see us as looking down on them, don't see us as thinking less of them because they're not in manhattan.
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i think you've gotta have that. i think that's not only good for the people who you interview, it's also good for your audience. - are you doing ok on that front? - i think we are. let me be frank about one thing. i think during the campaign, the entire media didn't quite understand the anger of voters that led to the election of donald trump. i think that was a little bit sobering for us. i think we didn't quite have-- by the way, neither did donald trump. - you're not the only people that think that. the trump organization probably didn't understand it. - that's right, but my mission is to understand that and figure out a way to fix it. i think we didn't quite have a handle on it, and that's why we were surprised. the reason you don't want to be a coastal elite paper that only talks to people in the coastal elite is because you want to understand that phenomenon, it's a historic phenomenon. you want to understand what happened, you want to understand that voter, and you want to explain that voter
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to the rest of the country, and you also want to hold up a little bit of a mirror to that voter, too. - you're talking about, maybe we could have done a better job of understanding. is that the only thing that journalism institutionally, or the new york times specifically, has to answer for or apologize for to the degree that there's anything as it relates to this campaign? because we have been in a six or eight month period of self-flagellation as a business. others have flagellated us also. - i don't think we have anything to apologize for. i think we-- look, if you look at our coverage of donald trump, we actually came the closest to getting his tax returns. we got most of them. we got a lot of them, not most of them. we got some of them. we wrote the first stories, even before the tapes were released, about donald trump and quoting women about how they had to deal with donald trump, and their discomfort of dealing with donald trump. we spent months adding up all of his debt by looking at every public piece of paper we could find. i don't think anybody can say the press did not tell them that donald trump was a very, very unusual candidate.
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- and the public, having discovered this thanks to journalism, decided yes, but her emails. - you know what i think? this is one of the things we didn't quite, i don't think we quite understood. after the campaign, when we went out and talked to people, there a story that sabrina terenizi, who's a very good reporter at the times, did about why women voted for donald trump. because that was one of the most surprising things, right, given the things he said in the tape and elsewhere. what they said was, look, we don't like what he said. we don't like this portrait of a guy who's abusive to women. but we believe that washington is a mess. and we want the next president to not be of washington. - even if it's this guy. - yes, so we're willing to swallow all of this stuff to elect somebody who's just very different. - if you don't have anything to apologize for on the trump front, do you have anything apologize for on the clinton front? - i don't, really don't, and this upsets people
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when i say it, but we didn't just write about her emails. we also spent four months doing a two-part series of like 8,000 words looking at her role in libya and the events that led to benghazi. what we concluded, by the way, was that it offered a rich portrait of what she was like as a diplomat, but we also concluded that she didn't do anything wrong that led to what happened in benghazi. the emails weren't the only thing we wrote about. but what i would say is, how could you not write about the emails? there was an investigation. the fbi director, and we can go on and on at length about what we think of how the fbi director handled it, but if you're covering news. - it's news. - he got up and he said, "i don't think she did anything illegal, "but i think she did something really sloppy. "and there were a lot of questions about it." how could we not cover that? but i still think, if you look at all that coverage, and you look at all the coverage of donald trump,
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and you look at the aggressive coverage of donald trump, i don't think anybody could make the case that we undercovered either one or that we weren't aggressive with both of them. - i mentioned biased, i mentioned inaccurate. failing, you don't really own as the top editor, but you own it in a sense of being in the leadership of the paper. - but i would feel it if we were failing, that's for sure. - you can answer the question on behalf of your colleagues. the paper is anything but failing in terms of the subscription numbers and the revenue. - it's not only profitable, but it's in the middle of-- i mean, look. newspapers went through something and are going through something over the last decade that is transformational to our economics. we've gotta own up to that. when i started out in journalism at the new orleans states-item, and then the picayune and others, 80% of our revenue came from advertising. the money you paid, your 25 cents then, or 10 cents then, to buy the paper was like nothing. that contributed very little. that whole model has been reversed. advertising has gone away, or going away.
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it remains some, but not at those levels. the driving force of the economics of news organizations like mine is the reader. - consumer revenue. honestly, you talked about when you started that it was 80% in new orleans, as recently as 2000 at the new york times, 70% of the new york times revenue was print advertising revenue. - i remember friday nights when i was the natiol editor of the new york times when the page, the scratches, we called them, of what the paper was gonna look like, and i would look at them and say, "oh my god. "i have to find enough copy to fill these "funny little holes surrounded by advertising." i remember one week, there were so many of them, you have to produce these little stories that went like that around the ads, thathe publisher walked in to me the next monday and he said, we're not gonna do that again. we looked piggy. that was a different world. - different time. today, as we sit here in 2016, you've got about $500 million annually
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in digital revenue, and you're moving toward $800 million by 2020 as part of an exercise that you've all undertaken, a strategic plan of sorts, where the new york times goes, this 2020 report. you'reptimisticabout the . many people are worried about the future of journalism, they're worried about the present of journalism, but they're especially worried about the future. you're not. - i'm not. i am worried about the future of a lot of regional journalism. i'm not worried about the future of the new york times. the new york times, historically, like most papers, was dependent on advertising. being dependent on advertising is not a lot of fun. because advertisers get mad. you push back at them, you don't bend to advertisers, but they're a pain in the butt. to be dependent on readers, to dependent on the people who are most invested in our mission, that's the best thing that ever happened. - you're building a relationship with the people who are gonna carry you forward. - totally. - why did it take so long to be in the consumer revenue business, then?
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i'm not sure it was any worse before, it was a positive thing before, right? - first off, you probably couldn't have, in the economics of the business, you couldn't have gotten away with charging, we charge a lot of money for the new york times. 20 years ago, if you tried to charge a buck for the paper, people would have been appalled. so the whole economic landscape changed enough so that you could do that, so that you could charge a lot more. but to be beholden to readers, man, to have the people in this audience be the people who judge whether or not we succeed or not, and if they don't like something, they don't like it because it's something that they think jourlistically is off, as opposed to being completely beholden to advertisers who don't like something because you were tough on their product, give me the readers, man. - any day. - any day. - so the 2020 report talks about revenue, and as i've said, you're looking to do $800 million in digital revenue, and obviously have that accelerate beyond that. but you also have the opportunity to remake the newsroom. - yeah, yeah. - in the image of, as you perceive it,
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a future journalistic powerhouse. what is gonna be required to do that? different people, different skills, what do you think the right mix of changes is? - different people, different skills. a lot of the same people, by the way. i mean, look. right now in covering donald trump, the reporters who understand how to cover the military, know how to cover the budget, know how to cover intelligence and the fbi, i love them. - that expertise is important. - yes. but we have to be able to do different things. i used as an example to you, video. i watched after the paris attacks, i was sitting in that newsroom, and i watched the report unfold online. they had video pulled from the french news organizations with people hanging by their fingernails from the backs of buildings as these shootings were occurring. that was embedded in a report that also had great new york times writing.
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that is the future, that's a glimpse of the future. at one point, i sent max frankel, who was the editor of the new york times when i was hired as a reporter in 1990, and i sent max a note. i said, max, i just ordered up a video. - could you have ever imagined? - no, no. i need to be able to do video. we need to be able to do, to explain the healthcare bill in a graphic, moving way. we need to explain what climate change looks like in a visual way. it's gonna take a new newsroom to do that while also doing these other things. - the same people who do those graphics don't have to be the experts you talked about earlier. in other words, it's ok for those experts not to change. - yeah, though we did one interesting thing. i just named, i just created a climate change team, and instead of picking one of the traditional reporters or editors who cover climate change, i picked a visual journalist who doesn't write stories.
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i'll get her a deputy who can edit stories, and i'll put together a team for her. she, if you look at the new york times, she has done groundbreaking stuff that shows the climate. - so the future of storytelling will, at the new york times as elsewhere, be multiplatform, multidimensional, and it will involve the work of a lot of different people who do a lot of different things, some overlapping and some separate. - that's right. when i covered a trial in new orleans or chicago as a reporter, when i walked out of the courthouse, you know this. you're driving back to the office. you can tell the story one of three or four ways. is this a straight news one, is this an analytic piece, is this a feature, am i gonna do a profile? and those are your tools. your palette maybe had five tools in it. now, your palette has 20. i could walk out and say, you know what, nothing happened enough except for the fact that there was this dramatic scene in the courthouse and i have video of it.
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maybe that's the way to tell the story. - do you worry that the audience of the times is still too hide-bound in the main? so you've got a lot of-- i'm going to just presume this, but i believe it's an educated presumption. you have a lot of older readers, you've got people who have been reading the paper for a long time. are they going to be as quick to pivot? are they going to be as comfortable with change as you may be and the newsroom may be as readers? - a mix, some won't. by the way, you're not seeing us cut back on the print new york times, either. some won't, some people will not like it. they're more comfortable with the new york times of today in print. by the way, i mainly read the new york times in print. but i think if we wait and only hold on to the new york times in print and don't change, and don't take advantage of all the different technologies and different ways of telling stories, that's not about the economic survival of the place. that's just almost derelict in our duty. - you don't have a choice.
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change is happening, whether you want it or not. - it's more than not having a choice. it is journalism is better. it ain't even close. journalism at its best, when i watched the paris attacks coverage, sitting in my office that saturday or sunday, and i watched the mix of video, video we could never have shown in another era, and i watched the mix of video, and i watched the feeds from around the world, and i watched the fact that we felt we could just embed eyewitness accounts in. we didn't have to wait to write for one traditional lead-off story. you can't convince me. - by the way, you didn't have to wait to get it until tomorrow morning when it hit my doorstep. - that's right, journalism is better. - that's one of the things that we now maybe take for granted. i probably take it for granted, you may, is that it wasn't always the case that you found out about things one second after they happened. - that's right. that's a recent development. - in some ways, the newspaper can be seen as superfluous in some circles, because it hits the doorstep the next morning, and you go, this isn't really news. - i think the way to do that is to edit the newspaper so it doesn't feel--
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you still want, print is really valuable. everybody i talk to of every generation finds tremendous value in reading print. you have to think about it a little differently. you have to own up to the fact that, you want to use the most rudimentary thing, if you don't know what the college football scores were, that used to be a staple of newspapers when i was a kid. if you don't know what they are when you go to bed at 8 o'clock at night, i can't help you. - the fact that a lot of places now, because of cutbacks and changes in production, newspapers are closing their print deadlines before the games are over. you sometimes can't get the scores for two days. - if you want to look at sports, the most dramatically transformed part of a newspaper is the sport section. so i'm a college football nut. when i grew up in new orleans, i went to bed not knowing who won the tulane game or the lsu game. now i have an app on my phone. not only do i know who won, i can actually watch it play by play. and by the way, when i was a kid,
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there were three television stations. if your team is not playing on espn, you have a pretty sad team. you can watch high school games! - you can stream any game anywhere. at this point, it's a totally different landscape. to this question of how the paper has changed, and how the times has changed generally with regard to the audience and voice of the paper, i've noticed as a consumer of the times, headlines are different. push notifications are different. social media is different. they used to be information, back in the days when there wasn't social media, that was not important, but now, used to be information, now it's narrative. now it's story. i feel like you have shifted subtly but definitely, the voice of the institution. is that a good thing, and has it been deliberate? - it's been totally deliberate. it starts with me. but it's been completely deliberate. it's partly because, i think the traditional language of newspapers, and it took me forever to understand this in this job,
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was not necessarily the best way to write. there's a great saying that the great and late david halberstan would say, that the new york times takes really bad writers and lifts them to the level of the new york times. the new york times takes really great writers and lowers them to the level of the new york times. what he meant was, we had a format. you had to have a format, because if you have 100 stories landing on a copy desk at 8 o'clock at night, and if i decided to write in rhyme and you decided to do something different, we're not gonna close the paper. it had to come together. we don't need to do that anymore. so you can loosen up. you can let people write. by the way, if you go back and read historic journalism, i was at a journalism function last year, and they gave out copies of nellie bly's famous stories from inside an insane asylum in new york. the word i is the lead of practically every sentence
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nellie bly wrote. first person and voice were a powerful staple of journalism. i think, i don't want it self-indulgent. i don't want, i had lunch with my friend fred on the front page. but a perfect example, at the height of the ebola crisis, one of our best reporters, a woman named helene cooper, grew up in liberia. so she had the idea to go back to liberia, and people in liberia touch and hug at lot, she said. she said, when you go in now, people can't touch and hug as much. how profound a change that was. i told her, our editor told her, write that in first person. how would you write that in a way that doesn't capture the drama? what are you supposed to say? "some observers say?" no, you say, "when i was a kid, i used to hug my mother, "and now i can't hug my mother." - so you've gotten over the hurdle, or that hump. but i come back to this change in voice. one of the things that became news, not just because the new york times did it,
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but a lot of other organizations did it during the campaign, was when the president lied, or appeared to lie, you said he lied. in fact, you used the word lie. - in a headline. - maureen dowd said to us, she was here about a year ago, or six months ago, and she said, "i need to go back and redo all my coverage "of dick cheney from the bush years "where i couldn't say lie then. "now i want to go back, and i can say it now." do you worry, to come back to this question of whether the new york times is perceived as hostile to an administration, or to a president, or to an ideology, or a party, that the ability to introduce story and narrative into those things moves you more toward having a discernible point of view that puts you at odds with the readers? - i don't. i think that if you change your tone quickly, as we're doing it, you run some risks. i think you have to be very careful that people don't think more voice means more opinion. i'll be the first to admit, we've occasionally slipped,
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and stories that i thought should have been more voice slip into more opinion. nothing's more flawed than-- - but you fix it. - that's right, you fix it. no, i think the lie part was not just voice. i think the lie part was, i mean, we had a guy running who pretty consistently exaggerated the truth and told falsehoods, but in this case, it was the birther lie. you have to remember what he did. he said barack obama was not born in the united states. he said he had hired a private detective, and that private detective had come up with amazing things. he kept repeating it. who knows if he actually hired a private detective? he kept repeating it, he kept saying it. all of the sudden, when he was becoming a legitimate candidate, under pressure from the people around him, he said, ok, i accept he was born in the united states. - forcibly, in about 12 words, and then moved on to his hotel ad, basically. - i think that the only way, that was a moment. carolyn rein, who was then running the campaign,
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came to me, and she said this is a moment. we have to record this shift, it's dramatic. and we both agreed we had to use the word lie. because it was a lie. - it's a huge change. we have about 30 seconds left. you've been in the job for about three years now. - yes, just shy of three. - you getting tired of it? you getting bored? - no. - this is really a great time, never boring. - it's a great time to be an editor. it's a hard time to be an editor, but it's a great time. - and you're still enjoying, after all these years of doing the kind of work you've done, nothing is-- - ever since i dropped out of college at 19 and i've done nothing but newspapers for now 41 years. and it's been a blast. - thanks. - thank you. - thanks for helping us do everything that you're doing that's making our lives better. we appreciate that very much. dean baquet, thanks very much. (crowd applauding) we'd love to have join us in the studio. visit our website at to find invitations to interviews, q and as with our audience and guests,
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and archive of past episodes. - i have no idea whether donald trump will be impeached, or whether he's committed an impeachable offense. i do think he's gonna have an issue over time with his party. this is not a party that embraced him. most of the people in his party didn't support him. - [narrator] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by klru's producers circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin, texas community.
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