Fels Institute of Government students welcomed Marty Baron to the Public Policy in Practice speaker series on Friday, September 10, 2021. Baron is the former Executive Editor of The Washington Post (2012-2021), and former editor of The Boston Globe (2002-2012). Under his leadership, his newsrooms won 17 Pulitzers for groundbreaking reporting, including the Post’s uncovering of the large-scale surveillance of civilians by the National Security Agency, and the Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s concealing of sex abuse by clergy.
In the conversation, moderated by Distinguished Fellow Elizabeth Vale, Baron emphasized the essential role journalism plays in maintaining our democratic values and promoting accountability. He noted “Our [journalists’] responsibility goes beyond government and looks at all people of power…the more powerful the institution, the greater damage they can do,” underscoring the press’ responsibility to step in.
Vale and Baron delved into instances where his papers demonstrated this responsibility. On his first day at the Boston Globe, Baron encouraged his reporters to dive deeper into the case of the Catholic Church and pursue documents of public interest through the courts. In the case of Edward Snowden, Baron’s team at the Post felt an obligation to publish documents which detailed the widespread and intrusive regime of civilian surveillance that was being carried out by government institutions without discussion. While it may have received a lesser reaction at the time, his teams’ reports on Afghanistan highlighted, “what happens when you go into a war with unfair goals and an indefinite timeline.”
The conversation closed with Baron advising young professionals to practice patience, diplomacy, active listening, and that the recognition that productivity is not just output is a large part of leadership. Baron emphasized the need for a soul and a spine in journalism, meaning a clear sense of the mission and the ability to stand behind that mission.
Sharing his hopes for the future, Baron said, “We have gone through a lot, but the hopeful thing is we still have a democracy and we still have a large segment of the population that is committed to maintaining it… It is important to work on these institutions from within instead of tearing them all down.”
by Nicole Schneider, Fels Full-Time MPA, Class of 2022