COLLEGE PARK (11/2/18) — When the reporting is finished and the story takes shape, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron says there’s another question journalists need to think through.
What hasn’t been asked?
Asking that question has helped Baron lead his newsrooms to 14 Pulitzer Prizes. And it’s the kind of curiosity that he says is critical to practicing good investigative journalism.
“It’s really important for any journalist — no matter what position you hold, whether you’re new to the field or whether you’ve been in the field for a long period of time — to be more impressed with what you don’t know than what you do know,” Baron said Thursday evening during an hour-long conversation with University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism students. “Because there’s a lot more that you don’t know.”
“We are going to fail as an institution if we think we know it all.”
Baron, who was editor of The Boston Globe during its famous investigation of the Catholic Church, spoke following a screening of “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning film depicting those events. Co-hosted with The Diamondback, it was the first in an ongoing speaker series organized by The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism.
Baron was interviewed by Diamondback editor Ryan Romano and Capital News Service reporter Roxanne Ready. They asked about investigative journalism, some officials’ efforts to discredit the media, violence against journalists and the economic outlook for local and regional news organizations.
Baron returned more than once, though, to a key refrain: journalists must be “constant learners” and “good listeners.”
“My view is ‘let’s go do some reporting and let’s find out what’s really going on here, and when we’ve done that reporting, let’s go do some more reporting and find out what’s happening here,’” he said. “What we as journalists mostly ought to be doing is listening, and listening really well.”
He also said journalists “have to be activists for the truth” and, when it’s being challenged, should speak up in defense of the free press.
Others should speak up, too.
“I do wish there were a larger constituency that spoke out on behalf of a free press and free expression. Everybody benefits from that,” Baron said. “The advertising business is built on free expression, saying whatever they want. The music industry is built on free expression, the movie industry is built on free expression, and corporations went to court in Citizens United to argue that they ought to have what they deemed full rights for freedom of expression.
“So, when the press comes under attack, I think all those sectors of our society should be speaking up against it. And I wish that would happen more often.”