New editor at the Times faces the same old questions

Note: This was originally published as the daily newsletter for the Columbia Journalism Review, where I am the chief digital writer

On Tuesday, the New York Times named a new executive editor. A.G. Sulzberger, the newspaper’s publisher (the fourth member of the Sulzberger family to hold that title) said Joseph F. Kahn has been given the role, and will replace Dean Baquet, who held the position for eight years. Kahn, 57, is a former international and managing editor of the paper, and also a Pulitzer Prize-winning former China correspondent. He starts his new job in June. A profile in New York magazine describes Kahn as “the ultimate inside man” at the Times, someone for whom being named to the top job was almost a foregone conclusion. But some believe his status as a long-time company man could make it difficult for him to navigate the political and cultural challenges the paper faces.

Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of CJR, wrote in a piece about Kahn’s appointment that the choice of a new executive editor has drawn even more scrutiny than it usually would, because “the residue of the Trump years, and fears that the former president will return for another campaign, have put the Times in the bull’s-eye of the journalistic debates over objectivity and both-sides coverage.” In picking Kahn, Pope argues that the paper has sent a clear message that it “has no plans to rethink its approach.” Sulzberger tried to describe the paper’s approach to its coverage of Trump and other related topics in 2018, saying: “We won’t be baited into becoming ‘the opposition.’ And we won’t be applauded into becoming ‘the opposition.'”

What those within the paper see as a commitment to independence is seen by some outside the Times as a failure to address reality. Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, wrote in 2018 that some “want Times journalists to see what they see—an assault on democratic institutions, the corruption of the American Republic.” Inside the Times, however, Rosen says these kinds of people “are perceived as a threat.” The paper’s piece on Kahn’s appointment says the Times is “grappling with shifting views about the role of independent journalism in a society divided by harsh debates over political ideology and cultural identity.” But Rosen said this should read: “The Times is struggling with a model of political coverage that assumes a rough symmetry between the two parties at a time when one of the two has turned anti-democratic.”

Continue reading “New editor at the Times faces the same old questions”