Bwog Daily Editor and Fervent Snazzy Attire Supporter Julia Mix Barrington stopped by the Spectator’s Blue Pencil Dinner last night.  The keynote speaker was Dean Baquet, former editor-in-chief of The Los Angeles Times, who currently works for The New York Times.

Dean Baquet
 Dean Baquet | Image via

The Blue Pencil Lecture — an evening of opportunities for the Spectator to dress up nice and fancy  — held last night in Low was quite a ritzy affair.  Walking into the lecture room, an energetic Spec photographer snapped a picture of me and my friends; alumni, some quite prominent indeed, abounded.  The keynote speaker, Dean Baquet, currently works as the Washington Bureau Chief at the New York Times and has previously served as that paper’s national editor and as the managing editor and editor of the Los Angeles Times.  He spoke about the future, and charm, of journalism as a craft.

Baquet repeatedly encouraged his audience — the majority of which seemed to be bloodthirsty recent graduates seeking to make names for themselves at major papers (in Q&A, they name dropped the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, New York Post, and the New York Times, to name a few) — about the joy involved in covering and creating news.  If you can steer away from careerism, Baquet said again and again, the job will bring you “loads of fun,” “adventure,” and “travel”: in short, you’ll “have a blast.”

If, however, he warned, you enter the field with burning ambition and a weak moral compass, journalism won’t be any fun at all.  He illustrated this point with an anecdote:  while covering a rape trial for a small paper in his hometown of New Orleans, Baquet composed an “unfair” and untrue story about the defendant in order to see his name on the front page.  He mentioned feeling “proud” of himself until, naturally, the man he’d slandered (and that man’s lawyer) called him out and his conscience made him feel bad about it.  From then on, he said, he has always tried to act with integrity and not simply for personal gain.

Aside from encouraging budding newspaper men and women to write from their hearts, Baquet filled the lecture with personal and professional stories–everything from the Times Picayune‘s inspiring post-Katrina reporting to a time George Tenet tried to silence a story the L.A. Times was going to run because it would be “bad for the War on Terror.”  Baquet has really worked his way up the ladder, from dropping out of Columbia (where he clarified, he did not write for the Spec) to sweeping floors for his hometown newspaper (he “fell in love” with the field, he said) to sitting at the big desk in Los Angeles and New York; he suggested that aspiring reporters do the same.  Baquet disparaged college kids who assert that there are only three papers (that is, I believe, the Journal, the Times or the Post) for whom it’s worth it to do your first internship.  Looking around the room, it seemed, though, that Baquet was unknowingly addressing a group of just that sort of kids, only these kids were a few years out of college and had already landed those cherished internships.

It’s unclear whether Baquet or the young alumni were right–whether in this day and age it’s naive to assume you can work your way from, say, the Daily Hampshire Gazette to the Big Desk in the Big City–but his way certainly sounds like more fun than a high-heeled, high-stress, highly-competitive major-paper internship.  With his lecture still on my mind, this morning I called up my local paper to ask how I could apply for one of their internships.  Maybe if it worked for Dean Baquet, it will work for me, too.