Baquet on the LAT

L.A. Times Editor-designee Dean Baquet gives Tom Scocca of the New York Observer some of his thoughts about the paper, the city and competing for hires with the New York Times. Excerpts follow.

About budget cuts (John Carroll is the incumbent Editor):

“The truth is, the great secret is, over the five years that John and I have run the paper, we have cut a lot, and I think the paper is better—not because of the cutting …. I always want to choke the budget guys who say cutting makes you better, ’cause that’s utter bullshit. I just mean a lot of what we did at the paper was not about cutting—it was about emphasizing coverage, it was about making judgments about where we need to put reporters, it was about making the paper more aggressive.”

He sees part of the job as establishing a national identity for the Times:

The job is also, Mr. Baquet had said a few minutes before, about establishing the identity of the Los Angeles Times—“trying to get a firmer handle on what makes us different from the other three or four great American newspapers, or half a dozen, whatever the list is that we compete against...”

the L.A. Times is a conscious, and self-conscious, imitator of the established Eastern papers. “The L.A. Times has been a great newspaper for a relatively short period of time,” Mr. Baquet said. “If you count it as the Otis Chandler era, that’s 30 or 40 years. That’s not a lot of time.”

“I think Dean and John have been seriously worried over the past couple of years that they would essentially drop out of the major leagues,” said New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, Mr. Baquet’s old friend and frequent rival. Budget cuts have claimed a 10th of the newsroom staff, and last year the paper gave up its national edition. In its July 26 edition, The New York Times reported that Mr. Carroll’s other prize hire, editorial-page editor Michael Kinsley, plans to take a reduced role with the company.

Interesting admission that the Times personality has been affected by going from flagship within its company to being the second thought behind the Chicago Tribune:

“No newspaper in America has been through more turmoil than the L.A. Times over the last—except maybe The Wall Street Journal—over the last 10 years, if you think about it,” Mr. Baquet said. “I mean, sure, The New York Times had its Jayson Blair scandal, but look at what this paper has been through. It’s the most resilient newspaper in America. It went from, you know, the great halcyon days of Otis Chandler, to Mark Willes, to the Staples scandal, to having The New York Times and other papers raid its best talent. I mean, when I was at The New York Times, I was surrounded by ex–L.A. Times people.”

And the paper had gone, Mr. Baquet added, from being the flagship of the Times Mirror Company to being a subordinate property of the Tribune, halfway across the country—“which does something to your sense of self as a newspaper.”

He continued: “And it’s been through layoffs—not just our layoffs last year, but there were big layoffs during the Willes era. And it just keeps bouncing back.”

On living in Los Angeles:

“It’s not a laid-back newspaper. I think that’s one of the myths that people on the East Coast have about the West Coast. People on the West Coast work really hard too. They just have nicer houses to go home to at night, and the weather’s nice...

“It’s just a great, lush, beautiful place to live,” Mr. Baquet said. “Get out of downtown and walk around the ocean and go take a look.”

His pitch to prospective hires at the New York Times or elsewhere:

"If you come to the L.A. Times, you can have a lot more impact. That if you are an editor or a reporter at the L.A. Times, it’s a paper that’s growing, that’s experimenting, that’s trying to do different things, and a really good writer can come in here and just have more impact from the first day out. “I don’t have anything bad to say about The New York Times,” Mr. Baquet continued. “I think it’s a great newspaper. But it’s built. And because it’s built, it’s harder to just do different things. I mean, I can walk out now and by tomorrow create an investigative team on metro. It’s harder to do that at The New York Times. Isn’t that a bit like the pitch that applied in Mr. Baquet’s own case? “Yeah,” Mr. Baquet said. “Yeah. Yeah, without question …. I love The New York Times—I never thought I’d leave The New York Times when I was there. But for me it was, you know, come to a place … where you could really sort of do hard-hitting stuff, where you could change things pretty quickly.”

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