Esquire magazine asked in a 2015 cover story: “Is Martin Baron the Best News Editor of All Time?” That the question may credibly be posed says much about Baron’s stature in American journalism. Virtually every reporter and editor who ever worked for him in Miami, Boston, and now in D.C., where he is executive editor of The Washington Post, will tell you these things about him: He is smart, exacting, fearless, driven, and has an unwavering sense of integrity.
His newsrooms have won 16 Pulitzer Prizes, including honors for uncovering the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance of American citizens, finding surprising patterns in fatal police shooting victims across the nation in 2015, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and uncovering decades of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and cover-ups by the Boston Archdiocese, disclosures that triggered a global reckoning for the church.
Baron, who’s called “Marty” in daily life, will be the principal speaker honoring the Harvard Class of 2020 on Thursday, May 28, at 11 a.m. In advance of his online address, he provided insights to the Gazette, recapped his 44-year career, and explained why good journalism is vitally important.
GAZETTE: What’s a typical day like for you? Are you on call 24/7? Can you ever turn off your phone?
BARON: I am pretty much on duty 24 hours a day, although I do get to sleep, thankfully. I get up at about 5:45 in the morning, typically, immediately check out what the news is on our website, as well as on that of some of the competitors. I look at some of the alerts that perhaps have come in overnight, any email that may have come in on issues that need to be addressed. And then, over the course of the morning, I’m reading stories of our own, as well as other publications. I typically get in the office around 8:30 or so, unless I have a breakfast or something like that. We have our first morning meeting at 9:30, our first news meeting. We talk about what has already been posted on our website, what will be posted during the course of the morning, and later in the day. We talk about what different department heads are pitching for page one of the newspaper. And then, the rest of the day until about 4 p.m., is meetings with staff, personnel matters, reading stories that are scheduled for publication, meeting people outside of the office, and meeting with people on the business side of our organization, as well. At 4, we have our afternoon meeting, and we talk about what’s likely to be posted to our website over the course of the late afternoon and evening. We take a look at the plans for page one that have been drawn up. People have an opportunity to comment and talk about what they’re working on for the next day. And news, of course, is breaking throughout the day and overnight as well, and so we’re dealing with that as it develops.
GAZETTE: Let’s go back a bit. You knew as a teenager that you wanted a career in journalism. Why? What did you think the job was at that age?
BARON: When you’re young, you have no idea, really, what’s involved in these careers. But my parents, as immigrants [from Israel], were keenly interested in what was happening in the world and in what was happening in this country they had come to. So we had a habit in the household of reading and viewing the news. My parents received the daily newspaper, the hometown newspaper, the Tampa Tribune, which doesn’t exist any longer. They watched the nightly news, typically, “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” on NBC, and then they watched the local news. They also received Time magazine every single week. So there was a culture of interest in public affairs and indulging that interest by reading the paper and listening to the news. I’m confident that’s how I became interested in it. I was a pretty voracious reader of it myself, and so I just got interested. That was a way of being engaged with public affairs. I started working for my high school newspaper, and then I worked for my college newspaper. During college I worked three summers as an intern with my hometown newspaper. And when I got out of college, I immediately started working for the Miami Herald.