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Media Executives Step Down As U.S. Faces New Presidency, Fight For Racial Justice


There has been a lot of turnover at the top of major news organizations in recent weeks, including leaders of some of the nation's most prominent newspapers, networks and digital sites. This comes after a period of intense newsgathering and intense pressures on newsrooms. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now with more.

Hey, David.


CHANG: So catch us up here. Who is leaving, exactly?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's a whole bunch of prominent figures, perhaps most notably Marty Baron of The Washington Post, after a storied run there and the Boston Globe. The heads of Los Angeles Times, of MSNBC, ABC News are all changing over. There's been a search going on at some major digital brands, Vox and BuzzFeed News. They've been seeking new editors in chief after their top news executives have parted for deals at the New York Times, notably. And there's even a lot of speculation right now about Jeff Zucker of CNN and Dean Baquet of The New York Times, although it's my sense they both could hang on for, say, another year or so.

CHANG: OK. So for those who are leaving, what is driving them to go? Like, are you seeing any common threads here?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, a number of the folks we've mentioned - though not all - are older white men. That may not be ideal in this moment and for the current zeitgeist. The Trump era has ended. And that means, you know, that folks have gotten over this hump, this major challenge in terms of both covering Trump and in terms of the amount of rhetorical assaults on the press in some of these individual institutions. I think there's also been a generational tug. You know, during last summer's racial justice protests, you found there were ensuing debates in newsrooms about who gets to cover the news and how that news was covered.

CHANG: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: That was particularly a huge part of a newsroom rebellion that we covered against Norman Pearlstine at the Los Angeles Times. And he is, as I mentioned, among those who's stepping down.

CHANG: Mmm hmm.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, Baron did really well, but he has a sort of old-fashioned view about how newspapers should be thought about. He told our colleagues on Here & Now that newspapers are institutions, and that they're supposed to report what they find in, quote, "a direct, forthright, unflinching way." Let's listen to what else he says.


MARTY BARON: The alternative is that in a newsroom, that every individual should be able to say whatever he or she wants, however he or she wants to. And I don't think that really works terribly well. And it has the effect of undermining the reputation of the institution.

FOLKENFLIK: Now, a lot of younger journalists would disagree with that. In fact, a lot of them have, including some who work or have worked for Baron himself. They've crafted their own identities on social media, and they feel constrained by the idea that somebody who's worked decades in the business may be dictating how they perceive stories. You might have a question about the idea of finances that are tough for local newspapers, but not really the brands we've talked about so much. It's not about the money, although it may be tough for some of these storied brands to match the frenzied subscriber growth and ratings of the Trump years.

CHANG: Yeah. So what do you expect to see from the new crop of leaders coming in?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, so far, we haven't seen who's going to replace these folks, right? But let's use MSNBC as a case study because we have seen there - Phil Griffin, been there over a decade, over a dozen years, been replaced by Rashida Jones, the first woman of color to lead a major cable news outfit. She just announced - this her first week. She's announced that she wants to really separate the identity of the opinion shows that bank basically to the left and the idea of their news coverage. She is going to, I think, accelerate the cultivation of incredibly racially diverse range of hosts. And here's her challenge. How does she tether together liberals, wokes (ph) and the never-Trumper GOPs - Republicans and conservatives - that have bound their audience together for the last five years?

CHANG: That is NPR's David Folkenflik.

Thank you, David.


(SOUNDBITE OF KINO B'S "LIE DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.