By: Jennifer Saba
The New Yorker’s media writer Ken Auletta kept referring to McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt as “Jeff” during a Newhouse School breakfast panel on the future of newspapers in New York this morning. Finally, near the end, Pruitt pointed out good-naturedly, “Oh, it’s Gary by the way,” as everyone laughed.
Perhaps the reason for the mix-up: Fired Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet was also on the panel and in the audience was Jeff Johnson, who was deposed at that paper as publisher just before Baquet’s exit.
Auletta at the outset had put Pruitt in the hot seat when he asked the McClatchy CEO if he would have fired Baquet for his public stand against newsroom cuts.
“I doubt it,” responded Pruitt, who was sitting next to Baquet. “It’s difficult to put myself in that position.”
That response prompted Auletta to push the question further by adding that Baquet had publicly challenged executives: “We want our editors to stand up and assert themselves,” said Pruitt, who was serving as a proxy for the newspaper industry in general and the Tribune Co. specifically. “I don’t want them to be punished for asserting themselves.”
Shortly after that, Pruitt said, “Fortunately, I wasn’t at Tribune and I’m glad I’m not there now. There are still waiting for Godot,” he said referring to the seemingly endless review process involving the Chicago-based company.
For his part, Baquet described the atmosphere of Tribune during his tenure at the Los Angeles Times saying that the “panic brought on by Wall Street” was the impetus for the cuts. “My biggest fear is the panic and I’m not sure it’s justified. Nobody is talking about the good stuff,” said the newly appointed Washington Bureau Chief of The New York Times.
Baquet also responded to questions about the recent dust-up at the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times involving Andres Martinez and the decision to hand over the section to Hollywood producer Brian Grazer which was later pulled. While the editorial page was split from the newsroom during Baquet?s tenure, Baquet conceded: ?I understand what they were trying to do,? he said adding that the opinion section of the newspaper is the most threatened. ?I wouldn?t have done it because it invites conflict.?
For as many questions as Baquet fielded about the Los Angeles Times during the panel, he tried to distance himself from his former employer. ?[I?m trying] as much as possible to cut myself off from my old job. Overall morale is in the tank. I like the new editor, he?s a friend,? he said adding that given what he had to face, it?s likely editor James O?Shea will have to reduce staff as well. ?It?s a hell of a paper.?
As for the cuts in foreign and national (and general) news staff plaguing the industry, Baquet held up his former hometown paper, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, as an example of a regional metro that while facing hard economic times, continues to be a service to the community. ?You cannot tell me that people are not beholden to that newspaper,? he said — which prompted Auletta to give a shout-out to S.I. Newhouse, chairman of Conde Nast, who was in the audience. ?Way to go!? The Times-Picayune is part of Advance Publications a division of Conde Nast.
?That was shameless,? remarked Pruitt. ?But accurate!?