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Journalist and Editor Marty Baron Discusses State of Journalism at IOP Forum

The Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics hosts Marty Baron, former executive editor at the Washington Post, in a discussion Thursday evening. Baron spoke about the state of mainstream media at the forum.
The Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics hosts Marty Baron, former executive editor at the Washington Post, in a discussion Thursday evening. Baron spoke about the state of mainstream media at the forum. By Sachi Laumas
By Rachel M. Fields, Ava H. Rem, and Andrew Yu, Contributing Writers

Journalist Marty Baron, formerly an editor for the Boston Globe and executive editor of the Washington Post, discussed objective journalism, the state of mainstream media, and press coverage of elections at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum on Thursday evening.

During the event moderated by Nancy Gibbs, Director of the Shorenstein Center and a Harvard Kennedy School professor, Baron called the current period of journalism one of “radical reinvention,” featuring “a bit of a revolt against” objectivity.

“The revolt is based on the idea that journalism is insufficient to the times and that it’s hard to hold people accountable with this kind of journalism,” Baron said.

With the expansion of social media and cable news, Baron called the public’s inability to agree on what is fact a “problem” in the industry. He identified public disagreement about the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol as the result of disagreement over facts.

“When we look at what happened on January 6, 2021 – stuff that we saw with our own eyes – we still had people saying this was a normal tourist visit,” Baron said. “Which is just complete nonsense.”

“Anybody can find a point of view or a set of so-called facts that reinforce their view of the world,” he added. “We have a society where we don’t share a common set of facts.”

Baron identified the lack of trust in traditional media as “one of the big crises” facing the industry, adding that transparency in sourcing and fact-checking can help increase confidence in the accuracy and reliability of journalism.

“If there’s a court document we’re referring to, then show the damn court document — annotated to show where we got something from. Show the evidence,” he said.

Baron also discussed the consequences of the press’ “failure” to understand public sentiment, referring to Americans’ surprise at the 2016 election of former President Donald Trump.

“We didn’t understand the country well enough. We didn’t get out into the country and talk to enough people,” Baron said. “How did we miss that?”

Baron also discussed how the industry’s changing landscape has led to the “collapse” of its traditional business model, pointing to fiercer competition for the public’s attention.

“When I was growing up in the field, there were only three major networks,” he said. “Now, there’s almost infinite competition for people’s attention.”

Baron said he sees the competition as a positive development in the industry.

“The only thing I’ve seen in markets where there’s less competition is lower quality. So I favor competition,” he said.

Looking forward, Baron said he tries to be optimistic about the state of journalism.

“We can’t afford not to be optimistic because I think journalism is too important and it needs to succeed,” he said.

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Student LifeIOPPoliticsJournalism2016 ElectionTrump