In the coming months, Dean Baquet, the august executive editor of The New York Times, will announce his resignation and, barring an unforeseen disaster, pass the reins to managing editor Joe Kahn, sources familiar with the paper’s succession plans tell me. The passing of the editorial torch, which we’ve been anticipating since the fall, will surprise exactly no one at the paper of record. Baquet has long planned to step down this year and Kahn is so instrumental to the editorial leadership and such a well-known quantity that, even at a moment when nearly every news organization is putting a premium on diversity, no one is likely to balk at the appointment of a 57-year-old, Harvard-educated white man to the top of the Times masthead. Indeed, if there is anything notable about the Times succession story this time around, it’s how seamless and drama-free it is likely to be.
If the masthead shakeup is met with relatively little fanfare, it may also be because of the changing nature of the Times’ business. Historically, the executive editor has been the most important person at the Times, and the Times itself—“the paper,” in its corporeal and digital formats—has more or less been synonymous with The New York Times Company, its publicly-traded, dual-class family-controlled owner. Arguably, that is no longer the case. Today, the most important person at The New York Times Company is inarguably neither Baquet or Kahn, but rather Meredith Kopit Levien, the president and C.E.O. who has led an aggressive effort to broaden and diversify the Times Company’s portfolio, which was slash-and-burned after a near-death experience post-2008. And thanks in large part to her, “the paper” is now just one of many assets in a rapidly growing and increasingly differentiated media company that also includes games, cooking apps and shopping guides, among other services.
“The strategy is to be an essential daily habit to millions and millions of people,” Kopit Levien told me in a phone interview this month. “When you think about the breadth of what the Times has to offer a reader, listener, consumer…. The Times today is a place of ambition. We’re no longer trying to climb our way out of an economic crisis.”