This morning at breakfast at the ultra-swank W Hotel in Midtown (blaring “salsatronica” at in the lobby at 8:00AM = unnecessary), Dean Baquet looked an awful lot like the next executive editor of the New York Times. As he sat alongside Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of the McClatchy Co. of newspapers, the Washington bureau chief of the Times and L.A. Times ex-editor/folk-hero fielded questions from the New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta on yet another panel about the future of newspapers, Baquet looked ever-the-general, politely slamming his former employers at the Tribune Company. “There was a lack of rational thought about the future,” Baquet said. “Panic had set in. It’s impossible to lead an organization when that happens.”
While Baquet admitted that some pressure from Wall Street on newspapers to reach the youth market — what he called the “Britney Spears pressure” — is healthy, he’s “not convinced young people won’t read the newspaper as they get older.” Baquet said some of the downward spiralling state of newspapers was “self-inflicted” — pointing to the slashing of sections, like book reviews, turning readers off.
Baquet, though, had optimism for his former company’s future: “If I were a multibillionaire, I’d [buy] the Tribune Co. right now.”
Pruitt, whose McClatchy Co.’s stock is down some 30 percent this year, conceded that the timing of the company’s purchase of Knight Ridder was “awful,” but that the newspaper business is “not for the faint of heart.”
Baquet also addressed the current scandal at the L.A. Times involving the resignation of the paper’s op-editor and the killing of a section that was to be edited by film producer Brian Grazer, saying he would not have approved the guest editor because “it invites conflict.”
Baquet said the morale the L.A. Times was “in the tank”: “They’re sitting there waiting for a sale, [waiting for] some cuts rolling down the hill — throw in the angst of the newsroom in general … it’s a tumultuous time.”