Tanzina Vega: I'm Tanzina Vega, welcome back to The Takeaway. The media landscape is changing and big jobs are going empty at news organizations across the country. From The Washington Post to The New York Times to HuffPost to the LA Times and beyond, many outlets are looking for new editors right now. We're going to talk about why with Sarah Ellison, a staff writer for The Washington Post, who covers media and politics. Sarah, welcome to The Takeaway.
Sarah Ellison: Thanks for having me.
Tanzina: Two publications, two newspapers, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have recently announced pretty big departures; Marty Baron leaving The Post, Norm Pearlstine leaving The Times. These are men who've been in these positions. In fact, Norman came out of retirement to go back to the LA Times. How surprising were these departures?
Sarah Ellison: In Marty Baron's case, he had alerted everyone two years ago that he was going to retire after the presidential election. It's a normal time in a news organization for places to take stock and change, not just leadership, but White House reporters leave their bids, different people move around. Nonetheless, when Marty announced his retirement, he announced it with a one-month lead time. He announced it at the end of January, and he was leaving at the end of February. Even though we were expecting that to come, it was still a bit of a shock. Partly because he's been such a transformative leader at The Post.
Norm's departure announcement came really amid a newsroom uprising and revolt about the lack of diversity at Los Angeles Times newsroom. That was a real call from that newsroom that they wanted their newsroom to reflect the community that they cover. Really, they felt like it didn't. Norm is an excellent leader. He has led newsrooms from the Wall Street Journal to Time Inc to Bloomberg Businessweek. He's somebody who has retired-- He'll say this himself, he's retired for more jobs than most people have had.
Here's somebody who definitely knew how to do the job, but he was an older white man who was running a newspaper and riding the ship. He was running a newspaper that is reflecting a city and covering a city that is broadly diverse, young, changing demographically. His departure was less of a surprise, but it was a real signal that things were going to change dramatically.
Tanzina: We actually did some reporting around the LA Times, and many of the Latino reporters there who had gathered to ask for more diversity, particularly given the demographics, as you mentioned, Sarah, of some of the largest cities in the state of California, particularly in LA. The New York Times, however, has also not escaped its scrutiny. They've had their own issues recently, and in particular, there's been a pretty clear line of succession.
Editors Joe Kahn, James Bennett, Cliff Levy have all been names that have emerged to succeed the current executive editor, and I should mention the first Black executive editor at The New York Times who's Dean Baquet. That line of succession appears to be shaken up a little bit. There was recently, Sarah, some reporting about James Bennett, in particular, by a former person who'd worked with him. What do we know about the turmoil at The New York Times right now?
Sarah Ellison: People have been looking for Dean Baquet's successor from the moment that he stepped into that job. Succession races at The New York Times hold a particular kind of fascination for people. What's happening now, obviously, James Bennett left The New York Times in the wake of the very controversial Tom Cotton op-ed. That was over this summer at a period of time when newsrooms were in turmoil following the protests after George Floyd's death. That was a moment where those protests really awakened something in newsrooms that had been lying dormant for a long time.
What happened after James Bennett is that people really woke up to the fact-- and in The Times, in particular, you turn around and you look, who are other successors, and who are the people who might be able to take over this job? All of those successors are white men. In this moment, that's a glaring lens on the world to just look and say that the people we have set up to succeed our editor, there are no people of color, there are no women in those ranks. Now, they've since expanded that pool a bit, but there's all kinds of questions around The New York Times and the kinds of people that get supported and promoted.
Tanzina: Sarah, one of the things that notably is happening at The Times is also a bit of a shakeup among personnel who are not in line for Dean Baquet's job. We know that there were two notable departures just very recently from The Times. What can you tell us about that, Sarah?
Sarah Ellison: In the same week, Andy Mills who was a producer on the incredibly popular podcast, The Daily and was working on Caliphate, which was an incredibly popular program that they had supported, that blew up. Andy Mills was the producer on that show, and he left after their allegations surfaced that he had exhibited behavior that was close to sexual harassment, bullying. There were reports that women had raised about him in his previous jobs and he left The Times.
Separately, Don McNeil, who is also somebody who's become a leading voice on the pandemic; he's a major public health voice on the coronavirus, a report surfaced in The Daily Beast about his behavior on a Putney Student Travel trip where students complained about him talking down to them, talking down to Indigenous leaders on the trip, and notably using the N-word in a conversation.
That was something that The Times had investigated back in 2019 and reprimanded him, but then when those reports became public, the staff again was really troubled by the fact that no further action was taken. Don McNeil was forced to resign on the same week. Those two departures opened up a question at The Times that again has been there for a long time lying dormant, but is now very much out in the open.
Tanzina: We should also mention in full transparency that Andy Mills previously worked at WNYC, which is the producer for this show. We can't ignore television, NBC News has made some big changes. They now have Cesar Conde who is a Latino leading MSNBC and CNBC, as well as NBC News. He came over from Telemundo. MSNBC, Rashida Jones will be the first woman of color to lead a major cable news company when she becomes the president of MSNBC. There have been lots of changes in television. Of course, we have CNN, who is also my previous employer, where Jeff Zucker is reportedly on the way out. Big changes there. Is there anyone that we're thinking who could replace Jeff Zucker at CNN right now? Is it too early?
Sarah Ellison: It's a little early. Jeff Zucker himself addressed the staff because there were so many rumors that he was going to step down now. He announced that he was going to stay through the end of his contract. He's there another year. It's a long, long runway for them to find a successor. There's no question that these changes in the television landscape. Again, this is an industry that has predominantly been run by white men. Now, there are new leaders, as you mentioned, at MSNBC and NBC who are taking over. There's a real clamoring for a new generation of leadership and people who are going to be able to look at stories without some of the blind spots that have long existed in media.
James Goldston at ABC News also announced his retirement. We're really going to see television in a way shapes the culture a bit more than even the print news organizations that we've been talking about. Those changes in leadership are going to be significant in terms of what people see on their television sets and the stories that those news organizations are choosing to air. I think that we'll have to be on the lookout for how that might change the programming in the months and years to come.
Tanzina: I think one of the things I'm noticing both at a local television and network and even cable television, Sarah, is that there are more correspondents of color who are emerging. I think that that's an interesting thing to see as we move forward, particularly in White House correspondent jobs and big jobs like that. You've written that this could be a crisis or an opportunity for journalism. Where do you stand right now?
Sarah Ellison: It seems at the beginning when these jobs all came open and you kept hearing the same names come up about who could succeed these leaders, it felt like newsrooms were not prepared and had not been grooming a broad base of people who could step into these jobs. Now we've seen over the past months, as you mentioned a much more diverse crop of people coming up to cover the White House and White House Correspondents' jobs.
Newsrooms are trying to rise to this challenge and turn it into something, and so I have faith that one, people won't abide a new crop of leaders that isn't more diverse, that doesn't elevate more women and people of color, and I think that this is a moment people talk about in business all the time that personnel is policy. I think that that's what we are testing right now, where, if you can put the right people in those jobs and you can put a more diverse crop of candidates, what's that going to do to the news that people are consuming? I think that most of these news organizations feel a real responsibility and an urgency that they need to define the kind of leaders that they need to have more broadly.
It used to be there was a very narrow path for how you would succeed at a news organization. Now those news organizations are doing so many more things than old newspapers used to do, their podcasts, these are 24-hour multimedia operations. The kinds of talents and the talent pool you can draw from, you can be much more creative and more broad thinking than what people have been for many, many years. I think there's a real opportunity here for people to expand their searches and think pretty creatively about who might be the next round of leaders for these organizations.
Speaker 2: Well, we'll soon find out what they decide to do. Sarah Ellison is a staff writer for The Washington Post, covering media and politics. Sarah, thanks so much.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.