Washington Post Editor Martin Baron Delivers Forceful Speech on Journalism’s ‘Anxious, Exciting’ Future

A top U.S. journalist outlines dynamic, fast-changing future for American journalism at the annual Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture

Martin Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post, speaks at UC Riverside on April 7, 2015 Milka Soko

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron said in a speech at UC Riverside Tuesday that journalists, like immigrants to a new land, must abandon much of their past and adapt without delay to their new — digital — world. They must relinquish traditions they have held dear, including their long reliance on a paper product, their outdated notions about the “front page” — a meaningless concept  to most online readers — and their often-intentional ignorance about the financial side of their own news organizations. (See the video of the speech.)

In a forceful speech that drew repeated applause, Baron spoke on April 7 at the University of California, Riverside, the 47th in a line of prominent journalists invited to the campus to deliver the annual Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture. The lecture series, which explores issues important to journalism and its future, was launched in 1966 by the late Howard H “Tim” Hays, a longtime editor and publisher of The Press-Enterprise newspaper.

Previous speakers in the series include such luminaries of American journalism as Ben Bradlee, Gene Roberts, Katharine Graham, Tom Johnson, Clarence Page, David Broder, Karen House, Ray Suarez and Lawrence Wright.

Baron, who became Executive Editor of the Post in January, 2013, has held senior positions at many of the nation’s top newspapers, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. Under his leadership, the Post won two Pulitzer Prizes in 2014, including the Gold Medal for Public Service for stories based on classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, which exposed the massive global surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency.

Martin Baron of the Washington Post and UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox in front of a plaque honoring all the lecture speakers. James Grant

Martin Baron of the Washington Post and UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox in front of a plaque honoring all Hays Press-Enterprise lecture speakers.
James Grant

With an enthusiastic audience that included Riverside community members, students and faculty from UC Riverside and local high schools, and  many journalists, including a number of his former colleagues from the Los Angeles Times, as well as the Press-Enterprise, the Orange County Register and other organizations, Baron said much must be retained as journalism moves, fully and inevitably, from print to digital. That includes on-the-scene reporting, compelling storytelling, in words and images, rigorous editing, strong fact-checking and absolute  integrity.

“We cannot let investigative muscles atrophy in our profession,” he said. “Especially now, when the power of government is growing. When the power of the wealthiest has expanded beyond all imagined limits. When the dark arts of image manipulation have been perfected. Especially now when those who should be watched assume we in the press have lost strength and will to be watchdogs.

“If we as journalists abandon that mission — because we say we can’t afford it, because we claim it’s not cost-effective, or because risks seem too great — we will betray the foundational principle of a free press. It would be the most irresponsible thing we could do.”

Fundamentally, he said, “we must keep our values. The first among them is a determination to do what we feel is right and in the public interest — even when there is commercial risk, even when the risks exceed that.”

Today, Baron said, journalists and their profession, routinely disparaged and demonized by the public and often, the powerful, feel shaken, under siege.

“But fear cannot be our guide. If there is one thing that must remain unshakable, this is it: That we will publish the truth when we find it and when the public deserves to know.

“That is the spirit of the First Amendment, and the spirit that animated Tim Hays.”

The full text of Baron’s talk is included on The Washington Post blog.

The 47th annual Hays Press-Enterprise lecture drew community members, journalists and students.   Milka Soko

The 47th annual Hays Press-Enterprise lecture drew community members, journalists and students.
Milka Soko

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