Exclusive: New York Times Editor Dean Baquet Has Been Running the Gray Lady from L.A.

The most important man in New York media has decamped to the West Coast. Not everyone’s happy about that.

New York City, as everybody knows, is the center of the media-elite establishment, and there’s no more revered pillar of that establishment than The New York Times. It only stands to reason, then, the man at the top of the paper’s masthead, executive editor Dean Baquet, would spend most of 2021 running his Manhattan-headquartered institution from… Los Angeles?

When Baquet, 64, purchased a $2.9 million four-bedroom house in Hancock Park in January, according to city records, some speculated that he was headed back to lead the Los Angeles Times when the executive editor role was vacated last year by another venerated East Coast media icon, Norman Pearlstine. The L.A. Times gig ultimately went to former ESPN senior vice president Kevin Merida, yet Baquet this year has remained largely ensconced in his Larchmont-adjacent abode—with neighbors like Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, sports writer and analyst Bill Simmons, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and mega-producer Shonda Rhimes—running the East Coast’s most essential house organ from his home on the West Coast.

Baquet does have a history with L.A., so his posting up here isn’t unexpected. He lived in Santa Monica back in the 2000s, during a stormy but successful six-year stint as managing editor, then executive editor of the L.A. Times—where he battled paper’s then-owners, Tribune Company, over layoffs, which led to his being fired. He quickly went on to become The New York Times’ Washington bureau chief in 2007, and in 2014 got the top job after Jill Abramson’s messy ouster.

“Why not be out there?” a source offered, pointing out L.A.’s superior weather and that the Times’ Eighth Avenue headquarters have been shuttered for the past year and a half because of COVID-19. Its scheduled September reopening might even be delayed due to concerns over the Delta variant. But earlier on in the pandemic, seeing Baquet Zoom into  meetings from sunny L.A. caused consternation among the rank and file, stuck in New York as it became the U.S. epicenter of the virus.

“In the early days of COVID, New York was like a war zone,” says one newsroom source.  “We had an army of reporters covering the crisis, and some were perturbed that the general was directing them from 2,000 miles away.”

Even if he spent most of 2020 and the height of the pandemic in New York, as a source noted he did, when word started to spread that Baquet was in and out of L.A., some grumbling ensued in the paper’s internal Slack channels and private Facebook groups.

A spokesperson for the Times admitted Baquet throughout the pandemic “divided his time between New York and Los Angeles.” But so far this year, sources say the editor and his wife, writer Dylan Landis, have spent most of their time in L.A., also home to their adult son. At least until very recently, as the Times spokesperson noted Baquet is “now” in New York. The spokesperson declined to comment when asked in which city Baquet had spent more time in 2021. Another source noted corporate leadership at the Times is currently very eager to get everyone back into the office as soon as possible.

With the L.A. Times job taken (a job, sources say, Baquet had no real interest in at any point despite playing basketball with owner Patrick Soon-Shiong a few times) Baquet’s purchase of a home does make L.A. seem more than just a pandemic getaway. Several sources see it as a new signal his inevitable retirement from The Times is coming sooner than later.

Times tradition demands its top editor retire sometime during the age of 65 (Baquet’s birthday is in September) and chatter of who will be his replacement is solidifying around managing editor Joe Kahn. So Baquet is increasingly expected to retire this year, according to people inside The Times newsroom and media insiders without.

The Sulzburgers, the family owner of The Times, are in no rush to see him off. But Baquet initially wanted to retire soon after the 2020 election, much like Marty Baron did at The Washington Post, leaving about a month after the Inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Still, Baquet said in January, “I plan on being in the newsroom in New York the day it opens.” But Kahn, a much-respected, Harvard-educated, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose father cofounded Staples, has been taking on more of a leadership role in recent months, sending all-staff emails and leading meetings.

As another changing of the guard ensues, Kahn, essentially a Times lifer, has another strong selling point: he definitely lives in New York.

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