Boston's Alternative Source! image!

[Don't Quote Me]
Marty Baron (continued)

Q: You brought in Bryan Bender.

A: We brought him in on a contract basis because we needed to supplement our coverage, but thatís not a permanent expansion of the Washington bureau. So I think thatís a bit of an overstatement ó a considerable overstatement. The other thing is, as I pointed out to you before, this was not a year in which all they did was cut. They did invest in the paper, improving the business section, improving the technology coverage, and improving our coverage of the communities where our readers live in west and south. Our intention, going into next year, is to continue those kinds of strategic investments that will improve the quality of the paper.

This paper has never been and never will be, in my view, a farm team for the New York Times. First of all, that suggests that people are going from here to the New York Times on a regular basis, and that theyíre using this as a training ground. Thatís not true. Yes, there are people whoíve gone from here to the New York Times just as there are people who have gone from other papers to the New York Times. But probably more people have gone from the Miami Herald to the New York Times, or the LA Times to the New York Times, than there have been gone from the Boston Globe to the New York Times. So, thereís nothing even close to a farm team.

The New York Times is not the Mother Ship. Okay? We didnít come out of that ship. We donít report back to that ship. We are no more owned by the New York Times paper than Newsweek is owned by the Washington Post newspaper. Thatís owned by the Washington Post Company. Weíre owned by the New York Times Company. The only difference is that weíre a newspaper and Newsweekís a magazine. And itís the same basic relationship.

Thereís no doubt in my mind that the New York Times Company wants this to be an absolutely great newspaper and believes it can be and will invest in it to make sure that it is. I donít think that anything that happened over the last year suggests otherwise. Everything that I know, everything that Iíve seen, suggests that they are determined to make this a great newspaper and a quality newspaper. And Iím absolutely confident about it. If I were not confident of it, I wouldnít be here. I had some familiarity with the people who run the Times Company before I came to the Globe. I was very comfortable when I worked at the Times with those folks, and I am exceptionally comfortable with those people, their principles, their values, and their commitment to quality journalism now that I am at the Globe. And I just think that itís very easy, itís very glib to say those sorts of things. The only problem with it, it just doesnít happen to be true. I think that has been demonstrated. I think it will be demonstrated next year and beyond.

Q: When the Focus section was cut, one of the things Matt talked about was a hope that sometime next year, if the economy gets back on track, that it will be replaced with some sort of an Ideas section. And I know that [deputy managing editor] Peter Canellos is actually brainstorming that. Is that going to happen?

A: I hope so. I mean, I canít say to you definitively on that, but Iím very hopeful.

Q: Several people have told me that they find you somewhat aloof and quicker to criticize than to praise. As you know, you had some critics in Miami who said the same thing. How would you describe your management style?

A: That might be true. I hope not. I try to find occasions to praise people, and maybe those who might say that probably donít know those instances where Iíve praised somebody for something. I donít know that anybodyís actually keeping count. Itís certainly important to praise people, and I try to do that. I donít think I fail to do that regularly. But if I see something that deserves criticism, I wonít hesitate to criticize, because it can be instructive. People also need to know what it is I donít like, what I think needs to be improved.

Q: One person told me that the staff has to understand that the Times does things differently ó youíre steeped in Times culture, and that perhaps before there was a little bit too much "boy, that was a great story" and a little bit too much "arenít we all wonderful."

A: First of all, Iím not steeped in Times culture. Thatís another myth. I was there a little over three years. That doesnít make me a Timesman by any definition. I didnít spend most of my career there, and I never thought that I would necessarily spend my entire career there. When a good opportunity came along in Miami, I did that. It was never my lifeís ambition to just work at the New York Times.

I think I learned a few things at the New York Times. I think itís important that we be honest with ourselves about the quality of our work. When it is exceptionally good, it deserves praise. And when it is not so good, that should be pointed out as well. I donít believe in false praise. Praise can be devalued if it comes too often and itís not merited. I think Iíve been very complimentary of our work after September 11, on September 11 and afterwards. I think we have done an extraordinary job, and I try not to throw compliments around like confetti just so everybody feels happy about it. Iím aware of instances at other newspapers where editors or publishers have done that. After a while, the compliments arenít worth anything.

When I do compliment something now, people will recognize that I honestly, truly believe it. I probably donít do it enough because I just get caught up in other things and you forget, and thatís unfortunate. And if someone feels slighted, I apologize. Iíll work on it. We all have our things that we need to work on.

Q: Boston has a reputation for being sort of an insular, inward-looking place where decades-old memories and grievances count for a lot. Youíre the first outsider to be the editor of the Globe. Whatís it been like for you? What have you done to try to get up to speed on Boston?

A: Before I got here, Iíd read any number of books. I continue doing that. I think my reading over the next year or two will be exclusively about Boston, I imagine. On top of that, Iíve spent a lot of time not just talking to people on the staff but trying to get to know people in the community. Iíve gone to any number of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and receptions. On top of that, Iíve held meetings in the office, and have gotten to know quite a few people in a very short period of time, and in a period where there were all sorts of other demands on my time as well. So, Iíve certainly made a very diligent effort to do that and continue to do so.

Q: The Globe has traditionally employed a lot of columnists even aside from the op-ed page, which I know doesnít report to you. Do you think there are too many columnists in the paper? Might there be fewer as you move forward?

A: I guess Iím still thinking about it. I donít think there are going to be any more, Iíll tell you that.

Q: Before September 11, the biggest media story of the year was whatís been called Wall Street journalism ó a bottom-line orientation to keep media profits up for shareholders at the expense of covering the news. Of course, you left a Knight Ridder paper that was doing some serious cost-cutting in order to come here. Where do you come down on this?

A: I have thought about it, and I am concerned about the kinds of pressures that have been brought to bear on newsrooms. I donít think that Iím saying anything profound by saying that. I donít think that good journalism is impossible under these circumstances. I think thereís a lot of good journalism, in fact, being done.

While weíve had some extraordinarily good editors in the past, some great leaders of the profession and people whom I admire and I think people rightly held up as great models for all of us, I think thereís also a risk of romanticizing the past. Not everything was so great about newspapers in the past, either. I remember a period ó and Iím not that old, at least I donít think I am ó when newspapers didnít have business sections, when newspapers didnít have substantial coverage of health and medicine and science, when those kinds of subject areas were largely ignored.

I also think that perhaps there is a lot of good writing these days which newspapers donít get credit for. Thereís certainly been more attention paid to some other things that are important, and that is the design and graphics and the visual nature of a newspaper as well. I think newspapers as a whole are more accessible, in some ways more readable, and I think that weíve made progress in any number of areas.

But there have also been things that have suffered. We talked a bit about foreign coverage. That is an area that has shrunk in many newspapers. That means probably that Americans know less about the rest of the world than they should. And whether they were paying attention to it in the past I have no idea, but at least it was available to them.

Q: You told [Los Angeles Times media reporter] David Shaw in the early days of this war on terrorism that the inability of journalism to explain the Arab and Muslim world was a real failure.

A: Right. I mean, a lot of people did, and it didnít sit with a lot of people. There were projects about the Taliban and Afghanistan, about Osama bin Laden and the risk of an attack on the United States. People can point to those, and the newspaper can point to those as well. But in many newspapers, the news hole dedicated to foreign-news coverage has shrunk, and the staff dedicated to foreign coverage has shrunk. That doesnít mean that all the foreign coverage of the past was necessarily so great, but there was a lot of good foreign coverage. And at least it demonstrated a commitment on the part of newspapers to have foreign coverage.

So yeah. I think the pressures now are great. It requires us to use all of our resources to the greatest effect. We canít waste anybody. Everybody has to work up to their full capacity, and thatís the challenge of an editor these days. We canít get better just by adding on, necessarily. We have to get better by using the resources that we have more fully.

Q: Do you think September 11 may have changed the media paradigm back toward more serious coverage of important news, or do you fear that over time weíre going to slip back toward an obsession with celebrity and trivia?

A: I guess thereís what I hope and thereís what I fear. So I hope that it has changed the paradigm. I hope we will be more serious as journalists. I hope weíll recognize that what happens in the rest of the world is important to us, that we as a news organization should be dealing with matters of importance.

What I fear is what happened after the Gulf War. One would have thought that after the Gulf War Americans would recognize that what happens far away does have a direct impact on us and can potentially put at risk American lives and American interests. But after the Gulf War was over, people seemed to go back to their ordinary lives and not want to know that much about the rest of the world. Iíve seen certain publications rush to get back to celebrity journalism, publications and television shows, rush to get back to celebrity journalism as they detect that perhaps people have gotten bored with whatís happening in Afghanistan.

So I fear that there will be a return to that kind of journalism, but I hope there wonít be. I think that our greatest hope is with young people, for whom this has been a turning point. I think they recognize how serious the world is, that the world can be a dangerous place, that it can turn their lives upside down. And I think it has created a greater interest on their part in the news and in serious news. I wish it werenít for these reasons. But that I think is a good thing.

Q: Whatís the biggest lesson youíve learned in your career?

A: Well, Iím not sure I know how to answer that.

Q: Whatís the biggest mistake youíve ever made?

A: [Laughter.] Iím not sure I know. Iím not sure I would want to answer it if I knew.

Q: John Silber would have been governor if he knew how to answer that question.

A: Fortunately, Iím not running for governor, nor do I have any intention of doing so. The biggest mistake. I donít know. I really donít know.

Q: What do you see yourself doing five years from now?

A: Being here at the Globe. Try to continue making a better paper.

Q: So, do you see this as your career move? This is where youíre going to be for the rest of your career, or at least for a very long time?

A: You never know, but I have no other aspirations. I have no other plans. I would be absolutely content to be here five years from now or 10 years from now. Iím really not even thinking about it. Itís ridiculous. I just got here. And I canít predict the future. This is an incredibly attractive job. Itís a big newspaper, has substantial resources, and has a large circulation. Itís in a place where you can have a lot of influence. A good portion of its readership have influence on national issues, so we have a great readership. And itís in a great town, and what more can you ask? Iím absolutely content.

Q: You say itís a great town. We like to think it is. What have you found particularly appealing about it? What have you been doing for fun?

A: Well, not enough. [Laughter] Not enough, actually. Iím still in temporary living quarters, and so a lot of things like my bike that I would have liked to have gotten on are not available to me. So, mostly on the weekends, Iíve just relaxed and read. Iíve been to the BSO. Iíve been to the MFA. I like to walk around neighborhoods and things like that. I like the sense of neighborhood, and I like the sense of peopleís deep commitment to the city. I think thatís important.

Q: Whatís the most influential book youíve ever read?

A: In terms of management, Iíll mention one, and that is a book by Peter Drucker called Management. He talks a lot about what are called knowledge workers, that more and more employees are not employees in the classic sense of the past, but people who work with their minds. He talks a lot about motivates them, what drives them, what inspires them, what makes them happy, what makes them satisfied. And he talks a lot about the role of leadership in working with people like that.

He also talks about ó itís been a long while since Iíve read this book ó but he talks a lot about the importance of management. Most people in the newsroom donít think that managers do anything, and I understand that view because I had that view when I was a reporter. So itís fully understandable, and I have great sympathy for that point of view. But in fact thatís not the case. Thereís an important role for management in terms of maintaining focus, which we were talking about before, in terms of providing direction to an organization, in terms of setting a strategy, in terms of motivating people, setting goals, and having a lot of smart, committed, dedicated people who work with their minds and are independent thinkers who move in the direction you feel the organization should move.

Q: Whoís your hero?

A: You know, I told Editor & Publisher ó they asked me that same question ó that I donít have one. I guess I have to apologize for not having a hero, but I donít. I canít think of one.

Q: I guess youíre not running for anything, because a politician would say well, I have to come up with one.

A: Sure, right. Right. Iíd probably say "Abraham Lincoln" or something like that.

Read Dan Kennedy's story on Marty Baron.

Dan Kennedy can be reached at

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Issue Date: December 6 - 13, 2001

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