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LectureHop: Blue Pencil Dinner

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.

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  • you know what, bwog? says:

    @you know what, bwog? at least spec alums have names to drop.

  • naive indeed says:

    @naive indeed with opportunities to break into online journalism at their ripest, why would anyone subscribe to the idea that “working one’s way up” from a hometown newspaper is a worthy career move? the white house correspondent for the huffington post is in his mid-20s, and obama takes him seriously.

    sure, it might be more fun to work for the podunk picayune, but it’s always easier to move down the career ladder, if you find that’s what you really want, than to move up.

    and if that doesn’t convince you, maybe the fact that small town newspapers will be the first to die – or at least fail to ever offer any more jobs – will.

    1. EAL says:

      @EAL Your mistake (and President Obama’s) is taking the Huffington Post seriously when no one should. Online journalism is usually iffy at best, and the HP is no exception to the rule.

      No, I’d still rather read the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal for my news. Perhaps people like me (who actually enjoy reading newsprint rather than staring at a computer screen) are a dying breed, but it will be a sad day indeed if the cable news and online “papers” such as the Huffington Post and its ilk become the dominant sources of journalism in this country.

      1. ehh says:

        @ehh “Online journalism is usually iffy at best.”

        Speaking as a fellow lover of print journalism, that seems a bit harsh. Yes, a lot of mediocre online pubs get more credit than they deserve (present company excluded, Bwog), and yes, it’ll be a dark day if HuffPo and Politico replace the Times and the Journal.

        But that’s not where online news outlets begin and end. You’ve also got places like ProPublica, Talking Points Memo, and the Center for Independent Media hammering out models for smart, original web-based reporting. They may not have the scale or reach of the big papers yet, but their work is consistently reliable and interesting.

        Also, don’t forget the good local sites that have cropped up in the past few years (, St. Louis Beacon, Voice of San Diego) or the web-based units of print publications (NYT’s Dealbook, FP’s Passport, Wired’s Threat Level, etc.) that are breaking great stuff all the time. It’s a good bet we’ll see more outlets like these as print keeps declining.

        So there’s plenty of trash online, but I wouldn’t say the whole lot is ‘iffy at best.’

      2. right but says:

        @right but I’m not telling people to look for opportunities at HuffPo instead of the NYT. I’m saying that, in the absence of an NYT internship, national online journalism might help one’s career rise more quickly than decades of slaving at a local rag, writing “dog bites man” stories all day.

        I can say definitively that plenty of NYT careers were launched at places like Salon and Slate. I don’t know why Spec is trotting out advice from old timers rather than people who have gone through the much-changed rat race of the last ten years.

  • in the know says:

    @in the know the majority of those students present in the audience don’t work at big papers – i think almost exclusively the four people who dropped Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, New York Post, and the New York Times were the only four who work there (with I think two exceptions)

  • hey now says:

    @hey now stop hatin’ on spec, yo!

  • hmm says:

    @hmm thinking more about this, i think the most controversial thing baquet said was in response to the last question. asked why the big newspapers weren’t ahead of the game on the current financial crisis, baquet claimed that they had been – referring to the likes of gretchen morganson…not exactly front page stuff.

  • Sadia says:

    @Sadia actually, no one name dropped the New York Post. It was the New York Daily News. Just a fact checking note.

  • non-journalist says:

    @non-journalist oy, now I know not to delve into the parts of the blog you newshounds carve out for yourselves — it’s like you pissed all over the potential for good conversation here to mark this as your territory — point taken.

  • just wondering says:

    @just wondering did anyone ask Baquet if the Times will still be in business 5 years from now? Or will they be reduced to a shell corporation known most for its urban climbing wall?

  • Dani says:

    @Dani Thanks for defending my honor, Sad.

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