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July 10, 2024, 2:59 p.m.
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LINK: www.newyorker.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   July 10, 2024

In the two years that The New York Times executive editor Joe Kahn has been on the job, there’s been a firehose flow of challenges to tackle.

In a New Yorker interview with Clare Malone published on Wednesday, Kahn gets into just about all of them: the biggest controversies of his tenure so far like transgender issues and Gaza coverage, managing internal conflict, experimenting with new story formats and artificial intelligence, and more.

Come for Kahn’s answers and stay for Malone’s sharp questions. Below are a few of the most Lab-adjacent bits of the interview, but you should read the full Q&A here.

On curation and vertical video

Malone: When a person is scrolling the New York Times app, there’s tons of stories. Some are about yoga, some are about Gaza, some are about Trump or Biden. How do you communicate the editorial judgment that came from people opening up the newspaper and seeing what was on the front page?

Kahn: I think the difference between coming to the Times at any given moment and going to many other places where you can find news on the Internet is we’re constantly thinking about the hierarchy of the stories that we’re promoting, which is a big part of my day and a big part of my leadership’s team day — the play and the prominence of the different story lines that we have.

Malone: What does that look like?

Kahn: Oh, multiple times a day, we’re debating essentially what the top of the home screen, what the top of the digital feed should look like. The big stories that we’re covering, how many should be in the package that goes along with those stories, making sure that that package has something that has an explanatory element to it, that if it’s a controversial story where there’s been a strong reaction, you want to have a piece of journalism there that gives people a glimpse into the range of reactions to it. The depth of the New York Times’ coverage is a big part of what I do, what the leadership team does, what our news desk does. We hope to provide a much richer, fuller experience of the news than you can find anywhere else. Now, of course, you will also find, as you scroll down the feed, any number of things that might be diversions from that, particularly as you go deeper into the feed, and you find cultural lifestyle coverage, or health-and-wellness coverage, or some of our other journalistic offerings like sports in The Athletic, or Wirecutter, or other things. The ranking of those, the packaging of those, is very much a human curation task and an editing task. And we try to put them together really with a lot of intent every day and multiple times a day.

Malone: The Washington Post’s new publisher, Will Lewis, just announced that the Post will have three newsrooms — a classic news one, an opinion newsroom, and then a third, for service journalism and social media. What do you make of that? And would the Times ever consider a division that’s more wholly devoted to creating content for people who get their news mostly from social media?

Kahn: The Washington Post is among our most traditional and competitive rivals out there on just about every story that we cover. And it would be a loss to us and to the news media in general if the Post didn’t continue to thrive. As much as we’re competitors and as much as I want to beat them on any given story on any given day, I also want them to succeed. I hope Will Lewis has something figured out that will help the Post grow its audience, and we’ll be watching to see what he does. Our approach has been different. We do divide news and opinion into separate operations and we feel strongly about that, as the Post does. We don’t divide some sort of social or viral news —

Malone: I’m noticing more and more, let’s say Jonathan Swan, a vertical video of him summarizing his reporting.

Kahn: The difference is that it’s Jonathan Swan, or it’s Maggie Haberman, or it’s Jonah Bromwich. We’re using reporter-on-camera vertical video to offer a kind of explanatory layer to the journalism that we’re doing and to give people a more direct relationship with the beat reporters doing that work. But I consider that kind of the opposite — I want all those innovations to be within our own newsroom as a way of giving people other angles of entry into the good reporting that we’re doing.

On managing criticism and disagreement as the boss

Malone: You seem to have come in at a time when the paper is really trying to push people in line as far as independence. “Let’s go back to old-school reporting.” Do you think, temperamentally, you are the kind of person who’s suited for that kind of “get in line” period? Does some outspoken portion of the newsroom voicing their dislike get to you?

Kahn: I don’t mind people who are outspoken or have critiques about the journalism that we’re doing. In fact, I encourage a newsroom where we’re constantly debating how we’re doing on various stories. I think what you’re implying is that there’s an old-school kind of hierarchical decision-making that we want to impose, and that’s not really the case at all. One thing that I do feel strongly on, seeing the way it is increasingly difficult for reporters to take on difficult reporting topics that are sensitive, and seeing the kind of vitriol that’s unleashed on social media about those things, I think it’s really important that the rest of the staff understand that they need to stand behind their colleagues in those moments. So I do have less tolerance for internal criticism of each other as journalists. And I do think it’s important to build a culture where people feel they’re supported by their colleagues when they’re doing difficult stories, yes.

Read The New Yorker’s interview here.

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