For many it was a bittersweet announcement: Dean Baquet, managing editor of the New York Times, will become the paper’s first African-American top editor in its 163-year history. Baquet will take over from Jill Abramson, the paper’s first female executive editor, who departed suddenly and unexpectedly on Wednesday following what appears to be longstanding tension in the newsroom.
As media insiders across the country scratched their heads over Abramson’s unceremonious departure, African-American news organizations are applauding the possibility that Baquet, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and 25-year news veteran, could lead the country’s paper of record into a new age of racial inclusion in American newsrooms.
“We are thrilled to hear this news and celebrate with Dean in the major career achievement,” said Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists. “We appreciate our long-term partnership with the Times, and their commitment to diversity in the newsroom, something that leads to better coverage of an increasingly diverse audience. We look forward to seeing results of perspectives Dean will bring to this position. We are proud of his work and his commitment to excellence.”
News of Abramson’s departure comes only two days after Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, published a column lamenting a newspaper industry in which women remain persistently underrepresented. At the Times itself, some 69 percent of bylines went to men, according to a study by the Women’s Media Center. That same study showed similar trends across the board in print, digital and broadcast media.
But the Times’ track record on racial diversity could also stand improvement. According to a 2013 study by the American Society of News Editors, 7.8 percent of Times journalists are black, despite making up about 15 percent of the population in the state of New York. That’s still better than other papers in the area, however. At the Daily News, 5.6 percent of journalists are black, and at the Wall Street Journal, only 3.8 percent are black, according to the study.
The 57-year-old Baquet was born in New Orleans and began his career at the local paper the States-Item, which later merged with the Times-Picayune. In 2006, he was reportedly forced out of the Los Angeles Times after he refused to carry out major budget cuts his corporate bosses demanded he make. He rejoined the New York Times in 2007, having worked there for several years in the 1990s and early 2000s.
But he isn’t coming to his new position without some baggage, at least within the inside-baseball rumblings of media circles. He has a reputation for tantrums, in particular punching walls when he’s angry, and that image got plenty of play on Twitter Wednesday following the news.
Top of NYT masthead just got a little more wall-punchy
â€” Sara Morrison (@SaraMorrison) May 14, 2014
I feel like hitting a wall.
â€” Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) May 14, 2014
The wall Dean Baquet punched was unavailable for comment.
â€” Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) May 14, 2014
In a statement Wednesday, Baquet said it was an honor to be leading the only newsroom in the country “that is actually better than it was a generation ago.”