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It’s the End of an Era for the Media, No Matter Who Wins the Election

There’s a media phenomenon the old-time blogger Mickey Kaus calls “overism”: articles in the week before the election whose premise is that even before the votes are counted, we know the winner — in this case, Joe Biden.

I plead guilty to writing a column with that tacit premise. I spent last week asking leading figures in media to indulge in the accursed practice of speculating about the consequences of an election that isn’t over yet. They all read the same polls as you do and think that President Trump will probably lose.

But many leaders in news and media have been holding their breaths for the election — and planning everything from retirements to significant shifts in strategy for the months to come, whoever wins. President Trump, after all, succeeded in making the old media great again, in part through his obsession with it. His riveting show allowed much of the television news business, in particular, to put off reckoning with the technological shifts — toward mobile devices and on-demand consumption —  that have changed all of our lives. But now, change is in the air across a news landscape that has revolved around the president.

And given the jittery pre-election timing, I’ll try to keep these items short so you can check Nate Silver’s Twitter feed in between reading them.

Before the 2016 election, Andrew Lack, then the head of NBC News, warned colleagues that MSNBC’s revenue would take a 30 percent hit if — when — Hillary Clinton was elected, two people familiar with the remark told me. (After the debacle in 2016, few in the media wanted to be quoted speculating about what happens after the election.)

Well, TV sure dodged that bullet! CNN’s chief, Jeff Zucker, later told his Los Angeles bureau that Mr. Trump had bought the declining business four more years, a person who was there recalled. (A spokesman for CNN said that Mr. Zucker would not have speculated on future ratings.) And it has been a profitable time for cable news, a record-breaking year for political books and, generally, a bonanza for the legacy media that live rent-free in the president’s head.

That may be ending. MSNBC and other outlets that thrived on resistance to Mr. Trump may see their audiences fade, said Ken Lerer, a veteran investor and adviser to old media and new, who also predicted that The New York Times would “cool off” as you, dear reader, find other things to do.

And the people who continue to pay attention to the news will stay online.

“The pandemic has advanced digital by four or five years and it will not go back to what it was,” Mr. Lerer said.

In corporate media, that means what Cesar Conde, the new chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, has been calling an “omnichannel” strategy, as brands like MSNBC no longer see themselves primarily as television. For new outlets, it’s an opportunity to press their advantage of being native to this new world.

“Many media organizations have spent the past four years generally failing to adapt to a campaign, a president, a White House and an administration that is extremely online,” said Stacy-Marie Ishmael, the editorial director of the nonprofit Texas Tribune. “We are only, four years in, getting to grips with how to contend with rhetorical techniques, messaging and communications steeped in misinformation and propaganda.”

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Others predicted a deeper cultural shift — from Stephen Colbert’s biting satire back to the sillier Jimmy Fallon, from politics back to entertainment, whenever the studios can get production running again. But some veterans of the business of politics doubt that news coverage can really calm down — or that consumers can look away.

“If Biden is elected, conservatives will be energized, not retreating,” said Eric Nelson, the editorial director of Broadside Books, HarperCollins’s conservative imprint. “Trump will keep tweeting, and new scandals from his presidency will keep unfolding for well into 2022. By the time that all chaos and nonsense runs out, Trump could be running again for 2024.”

You aren’t the only one just barely hanging on until Election Day. Most of the top leaders of many name-brand American news institutions will probably be gone soon, too. The executive editor of The Los Angeles Times, Norm Pearlstine, is looking to recruit a successor by the end of the year, he told me. Martin Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post, just bought a house out of town and two Posties said they expected him to depart next year. He hasn’t given notice, The Post’s spokeswoman, Kristine Coratti Kelly, said. And the executive editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, is on track to retire by the time he turns 66 in 2022, two Times executives told me, dampening speculation that he might stay longer.

Over in big TV, Mr. Zucker, of CNN, has signaled that he’s frustrated with WarnerMedia, and broadcast television is overflowing with speculation about how long the network news chiefs will stay on, though no executives have suggested imminent departures. “Everyone is assuming there’s going to be turnover everywhere, and everyone is absolutely terrified about who is going to come in,” one television industry insider said.

This isn’t just the usual revolving door. Newsroom leaders face strong pulls in conflicting directions. Outlets all along the spectrum, from the staid BBC to the radical Intercept, have been moving to reassert final editorial control over their journalists. But newsroom employees — like a generation of workers across many industries — are arriving with heightened demands to be given more of a say in running their companies than in years past. New leaders may find opportunities to resolve some of the heated newsroom battles of the last year, or they may walk into firestorms.

Mr. Pearlstine, the only one talking openly of his departure, told me that the new “metrics for success might be different as well — issues such as inclusiveness, such as being anti-racist, such as really commanding some new platform, be it podcasts or video or newsletters, in addition to having journalistic credentials.”

And, he said, the old top-down newsroom management is a thing of the past. “Consent of the governed is something you have to take pretty seriously,” he said.

Wesley Lowery, a CBS News correspondent who has been a voice for more diverse and politically engaged journalism, said he had already seen signs of change.

“These big institutions very rarely come out and announce some big sweeping change — they say, ‘We’re not changing,’ and they change,” he said. “Even people who made a big deal about how the rebels were wrong are now conceding to the things we all wanted.”

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The right-wing cable channel has been riding high as the quasi-official White House network, though it has always been at its strongest when it’s attacking Democrats — who seem poised to take power.

But the approaching election has executives around Lachlan Murdoch, Fox’s chief executive, preparing to battle on several fronts: with left-wing critics, with what senior executives fear could be regulatory retribution from Democrats and perhaps most of all from James Murdoch, Lachlan’s more liberal brother and critic, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans.

And Lachlan Murdoch ends the election cycle as he began it: with no real control of the network’s high-profile talent and an unusually low profile for a figure of his nominal political power. One data point: a surprised patron of the Midtown power lunch spot Estiatorio Milos in late October reported overhearing Mr. Murdoch politely spelling his name to a hostess who didn’t recognize him.

The battles over speech and censorship, the sociologist Zeynep Tufekci tweeted recently, are becoming “attention wars.” As recently as last week, senators were dragging in tech executives to complain about individual tweets, but the arguments are about to turn more consequential. The platforms are increasingly being pushed to disclose how content travels and why — not just what they leave up and what they take down.

“We’re in this brave new world of content moderation that’s outside the take-down/leave-up false binary,” said Evelyn Douek, an expert on the subject and a lecturer at Harvard Law School.

Another way of looking at Substack is as a kind of Twitter Premium — a place you can pay for more content from your favorite journalists. And that synergy has caught the attention of some at Twitter itself, where the notion of acquiring the newsletter company has been discussed internally, a person familiar with the conversations said. (Executives at both companies declined to comment on the speculation.)

But it’s not clear whether Substack will continue to be the venue of choice for all of its stars. Mr. Greenwald wrote that he’d been exploring “the feasibility of securing financing for a new outlet” that would challenge what he sees as the “groupthink” of the left in the Trump era. And roiling anger in Silicon Valley with tough media coverage of companies and investments means there are deep pools of money for a new assault on big media.

“There’s going to be a surge of money after the election, especially from tech bros who think they can fix everything,” said one of the Substack writers who has drawn interest from tech investors.


Credit…Mike Cohen for The New York Times

Nothing good will come of reading political news, much less Twitter, between now and the election. Election week is usually a good time to hide out at the movies, but with theaters closed, you’ll have to find escape elsewhere. Two favorites: The Times’s brilliant Election Distractor on the web; and for your Kindle, Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle, a bit of high-concept political sci-fi that will prepare you for many of the coming tech and political battles.

On election night, however, come to Twitter for the jokes and stay for what is really one of the highlights of American democracy, such as it is: the reassuringly sophisticated, nerdy and nonpartisan vote-counting conversation that you can listen in on among the likes of Mr. Silver, Nate Cohn, Ariel Edwards-Levy and Brandon Finnigan.

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How Fox News Covered the Trump Tax Story on Monday

The popular Fox News morning show “Fox & Friends” was a TV home for Donald J. Trump long before he became president. In 2011, Mr. Trump had a regular Monday slot on the program, where he bonded with the hosts by hurling invective at President Obama and promoting the false theory that he had not been born in the United States.

During Mr. Trump’s presidency, “Fox & Friends” has reliably offered him a forum when he has found himself under scrutiny. In November 2019, for instance, while facing an impeachment inquiry, the president made false, exaggerated and misleading statements in his own defense during a 53-minute appearance on the show.

On Monday, the day after The New York Times published a lengthy investigative article chronicling years of Mr. Trump’s tax avoidance and financial difficulties, “Fox & Friends” welcomed two guests from his camp, the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the president’s eldest child, Donald Trump Jr. Both tried to cast doubt on the article, which examined more than two decades of previously unavailable tax data showing that Mr. Trump had paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he was elected president, and no federal income tax in 10 of the previous 15 years.

In a segment that touched on the Times article, the Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins noted that it was “probably going to come up” in the debate between the president and Joseph R. Biden on Tuesday night, a matchup to be moderated by the Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. Mr. Jenkins then passed the baton to the “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt and her guest, Ms. McEnany.

Ms. Earhardt quickly homed in on the timing of the article’s publication, rather than its substance: “What do you make of the timing, the tax thing coming out a day before the debate?” she asked.

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Ms. McEnany likened the article to past Times reports about President Trump, one of which she described as a “hit piece.” “This is the same playbook they tried in 2016 and the same playbook that the American people rejected and will do so again,” the press secretary said, before shifting to a discussion of Mr. Trump’s debate preparations.

Mr. Trump Jr., during his appearance on “Fox & Friends,” called the article “ridiculous” and said his father had “paid tens of millions of taxes,” adding that “people don’t understand what goes into a business.” He also criticized The Times for focusing on the president’s finances, saying, “If only they spent as much time looking for, maybe, I don’t know, Hunter Biden’s tax returns and the Biden crime family issues.”

The reference to a Biden “crime family,” a staple phrase among many right-wing supporters of the president, is an unproven smear. Last week, an investigation by Senate Republicans into corruption allegations against the Democratic presidential nominee and his son Hunter found no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former vice president. The investigation concluded that Hunter Biden’s work for a scandal-plagued Ukrainian energy company, while “problematic,” did not affect his father’s handling of American foreign policy.

Mr. Trump Jr. has been an aggressive proxy for his father on the campaign trail. Last week, Facebook and Twitter flagged a Trump campaign video ad featuring Mr. Trump Jr. because it violated recently implemented standards on both platforms meant to guard against the spread of misinformation. In the ad, Mr. Trump Jr. claimed without evidence that the “radical left” was attempting to “steal this election from my father” with “millions of fraudulent ballots.”

During a news conference Sunday, President Trump tried to dismiss The Times report, saying “it’ll all be revealed” after an audit by the Internal Revenue Service. The I.R.S. has repeatedly said that its review process does not prohibit a taxpayer from making tax returns public.

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Marty Baron Made The Post Great Again. Now, the News Is Changing.

Almost anyone who works in the Washington Post newsroom can look inside its publishing system, Methode, to see what stories are coming. And at the height of the furor over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018, some who did saw a shocking article awaiting publication.

In the article, Bob Woodward, the Post legend who protected the identity of his Watergate source, Deep Throat, for 30 years, was going to unmask one of his own confidential sources. He was, in particular, going to disclose that Judge Kavanaugh had been an anonymous source in his 1999 book “Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate.”

Mr. Woodward was planning to expose Mr. Kavanaugh because the judge had publicly denied — in a huffy letter in 1999 to The Post — an account about Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton that he had himself, confidentially, provided to Mr. Woodward for his book. (Mr. Kavanaugh served as a lawyer on Mr. Starr’s team.)

The article, described by two Post journalists who read it, would have been explosive, arriving as the nominee battled a decades-old sexual assault allegation and was fighting to prove his integrity.

The article was nearly ready when the executive editor, Martin Baron, stepped in. Mr. Baron urged Mr. Woodward not to breach his arrangement with Mr. Kavanaugh and to protect his old source’s anonymity, three Post employees said. (The three, as well as other Post journalists who spoke to me, insisted on anonymity because The Post prefers that its employees not talk to the media.)

Mr. Baron and other editors persuaded Mr. Woodward that it would be bad for The Post and “bad for Bob” to disclose a source, one of the journalists told me. The piece never ran.

And the steadfast adherence to the longstanding rules of newspaper journalism and the defense of the institution, which have defined Mr. Baron’s tenure at The Post, prevailed.

Happy newsrooms are all alike but every unhappy newsroom is unhappy in its own way. And in this moment of cultural reckoning, most American newsrooms are unhappy places. They’re reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and under attack from the president of the United States even as they reckon with America’s racial inequalities in their own institutions. At The Post, black staff members’ discontent burst onto Twitter, as a set of high-profile journalists who have left the paper discussed how they felt pushed aside or pushed out. Their complaints, along with previously untold stories recently shared with me, paint a picture of an essential American institution caught in fierce cultural crosscurrents.

The revival of The Post by Mr. Baron and its owner, the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, is perhaps the greatest news business success story of the past decade. But that journalistic revival has in some ways masked a messier story, one of many contradictions.

The Post has published some of the best reporting in the 20th century American newspaper tradition that’s ever been done, like the sprawling exposé of America’s war in Afghanistan — all wrapped in a digital marketing, advertising and publishing machine that The Post licenses lucratively to news organizations around the world. It’s a faceless institution in an era of influencers and personal brands. It’s a place where one of the managing editors, Tracy Grant, still hands new reporters a copy of Katharine Graham’s 1997 memoir, though, of course, The Post is no longer owned by the beloved Graham family, but by the world’s richest man. Mr. Baron’s fearless focus on White House coverage and investigations has put it at the center of the American media’s response to President Trump.

But it’s also a top-down institution whose constrained view of what journalism is today has frustrated some of the industry’s creative young stars.

At the heart of The Post’s identity is Mr. Baron, 65, the ultimate old school editor. He rose through the ranks of The Miami Herald and The Los Angeles Times, then arrived at The New York Times in 1996, where he took over the powerful role of night editor, the stern gatekeeper and final approver of any article headed into the print newspaper.

But he frustrated reporters with his punctiliousness, and didn’t play the internal politics of succession. He left The Times in 2000 to take over The Miami Herald, leading its staff to a Pulitzer Prize, and then The Boston Globe, where he published a historic investigation of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. That showdown became the movie “Spotlight,” in which Liev Schreiber played Mr. Baron as introverted, irascible, and unbending — a depiction that Post employees describe as uncannily accurate.

He arrived at The Post in 2013 “stubbornly retro,” according to a National Journal profile, but when the Amazon founder, Mr. Bezos, bought the paper later that year, Mr. Baron proved the perfect ballast: He wasn’t personally a man of the internet, but he made clear he was all for it. And his journalistic gravitas gave the newsroom comfort during its frantic, overdue shift to the digital age. When other publications seemed unnerved by the election of President Trump, Mr. Baron’s assertion, “We’re not at war with the administration, we’re at work,” seemed to fortify journalists everywhere.

Credit…Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

Mr. Baron’s opposition to Mr. Woodward’s story, people who work with him said, wasn’t about favoring Mr. Kavanaugh, or being afraid of a fight. Publishing the article would simply violate the traditional principle that sources should be protected. And it would veer into an uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing new form of journalism, and, in Mr. Baron’s view, imperil the reputation of the institution.

When I asked, repeatedly, for an interview with Mr. Baron, The Post’s spokeswoman, Kris Coratti, instead sent me 4,000 words of excerpts from his many speeches about journalism. The speeches reflected his sophisticated articulation of the importance of open-minded, rigorous and brave journalism. But the speech excerpts didn’t include the credo that stuck with me from a recent memo written by Mr. Baron.

“The Post is more than a collection of individuals who wish to express themselves,” Mr. Baron wrote. “The reputation of The Post must prevail over any one individual’s desire for expression.”

This principle reflects Mr. Baron’s frequently expressed frustration that his reporters’ tweets could undermine The Post’s journalism. It sometimes seems that Mr. Baron is standing athwart Twitter yelling, “Stop!” and nobody’s listening.

The intensity of the debate inside The Post over its journalists’ tweets emerged in an internal survey of reporters’ attitudes, commissioned by the national editor, Steven Ginsberg, without Mr. Baron’s participation. The report, which was circulated in April, described Post management as “ill-equipped to deal with social media in the modern era” and suggested that managers are more forgiving of mistakes “by white men and newsroom stars than they are of women, minorities and less high-profile reporters.”

(The Times, where management has cultivated stars and taken a relatively softer line on Twitter, has its own challenges, and was forced last week to try to purge the vitriol from its internal conversations on Slack. Its chief executive, Mark Thompson, asked employees to avoid “saying insulting and threatening things about co-workers.”)

The Post survey presaged the more intense concerns expressed this month by current and former black journalists about the news industry, in general, and The Post, in particular. Such concerns are not new.

But many Posties (which is how some on the staff refer to themselves) date the current gap between black staff members and leaders of The Post — Mr. Baron and his three managing editors, Cameron Barr, Ms. Grant and Emilio Garcia-Ruiz — to the departure in 2015 of Kevin Merida, then The Post’s managing editor, to lead the ESPN sports and culture site The Undefeated. A handful of black journalists followed him.

The union that represents newsroom employees, The Washington Post Guild, now says it has assembled 32 pages of concerns from current and former employees of color. Black staff members active with the union are pushing for a Twitter campaign to highlight the issues, modeled after a similar recent demonstration at The Los Angeles Times. But such a step would be more provocative at The Post, given the paper’s institutional unease about expressing opinions on Twitter.

Some have already surfaced. Kimbriell Kelly, who left The Post last year for The Los Angeles Times after being passed over for an editing job, tweeted that she was the “only black investigative reporter on WaPo’s Investigative Unit for most of my 7 years there.”

“The notion that only you had to prove yourself as an editor, while sooo many others who didn’t look like you, never did, steamed many of us,” replied Dana Priest, a white veteran national security reporter.

Questions have also arisen within The Post’s video operation, which, like other areas outside Mr. Baron’s core obsessions, has suffered from a lack of clear strategy. Employees said in a meeting this month that personal favoritism had substituted for clear goals, according to detailed notes of the meeting by a participant. One employee said black video editors felt they had to ask permission to get up even to go to the bathroom, when white producers didn’t. Two black editors, who spoke on the condition they not be named, said they’d felt that difference in treatment.

“Staff are always free to take breaks,” Ms. Coratti said. “They are just asked to give others a heads-up that they will be away to ensure that the video hub is not unoccupied in the event of unanticipated news developments.”


Credit…Alex Wong/Getty Images

A particularly striking issue arose from the coverage of the 2018 killing of a Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, by Saudi agents. Karen Attiah, Mr. Khashoggi’s editor, rallied support for him on Twitter, on television and on The Post’s op-ed pages. But when it came time to apply for a Pulitzer Prize — an unscientific process that often serves as an X-ray of newsroom politics and power — Ms. Attiah’s work wasn’t among the 20 pieces submitted. The exclusion, she told me, “stung,” and surprised people who had been following The Post’s work closely.

“I was appalled,” said Mohamed Soltan, a former Egyptian political prisoner and friend of Mr. Khashoggi, who described Ms. Attiah as one of the key journalists on the story.

The Post’s editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, defended the decision in an email to me: “What you have to leave out in such situations, in this case including excellent work by Jackson Diehl, Karen Attiah and several others, is never easy.”

One thing that is clear is that The Post — which prides itself on providing not just jobs for its staff but long enriching careers — has lost some people any newsroom would want to keep, including Ms. Kelly and Wesley Lowery, who left to become a correspondent for a new “60 Minutes” project on the streaming service Quibi. Another is Soraya Nadia McDonald, who said she had hoped to stretch beyond blogging twice a day on pop culture, which she did at The Post, and wanted “permission and support to be ambitious.” She followed Mr. Merida to The Undefeated, where she was a Pulitzer finalist this year for “essays on theater and film that bring a fresh, delightful intelligence to the intersections of race and art.”

”I don’t think any of that would have been published there,” she said of The Post. “This place just seems to run off its best people.”


Credit…Laurent Chevalier

The last time Mr. Baron faced sustained complaints from his black staff was in 2016, after Mr. Merida left. Then, a group of black Posties sent Mr. Baron a memo making the case for a new deputy managing editor for diversity. Mr. Baron responded that The Post was relatively diverse compared with other newsrooms and that Ms. Grant had diversity issues in hand. “They represent the bulk of her work and the most rewarding aspects of her job,” Mr. Baron wrote in the memo. “I can’t imagine taking them away from her.”

This time, as The Post rushed to quell the kind of staff uprising that broke out at The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, that role suddenly held appeal to Mr. Baron. The Post announced on June 18 that it would hire for the role, and an internal email says the deadline for applying is July 3. Mr. Baron would vet applications himself, and he reached out to Shani O. Hilton, my former colleague who is now a deputy managing editor at The Los Angeles Times overseeing its Washington bureau, its national coverage and its foreign desk, suggesting she apply.

“You may have seen the announcement of our new initiatives focused on race, ethnicity and identity,” Mr. Baron wrote to Ms. Hilton.

Ms. Hilton was not interested.

“I have seen over the years that diversity roles, particularly for black women, are the fastest way to be sidelined out of the most important conversations about coverage and hiring,” she wrote back. “The moniker lets other managers think the work of improving representation and newsroom culture doesn’t fall on them.”

Mr. Barr, one of the managing editors, said the job would, in fact, focus on coverage, even if it might not involve directly managing reporters. “This is a job that brings together the journalism and the leadership of the room,” he said.

That new editor will face questions about identity and journalism that extend beyond race. Two Post employees said editors had barred a Post reporter who publicly accused another journalist of sexual assault, Felicia Sonmez, from writing about the subject, citing the appearance of conflict of interest in her public comments. But it’s hard to imagine reporters are expected to be neutral on the issue of sexual assault — and the decision seems almost a caricature of the old idea that only people imagined to have no stake in an issue, often white men, can cover it.

It can, in this fraught moment, be difficult to untangle the forces driving the arguments about newsroom culture, objectivity and fairness. There are, no doubt, real disagreements around the issue of how much journalists’ opinions, identities and experiences should shape coverage and be shared with their audience, and when “objectivity” simply means a dominant point of view.

But one clear strain in the tensions at The Post is simply, and sometimes hilariously, generational. In the happier times of early January 2020, the writer Maura Judkis blew up the internet with the article “People are seeing ‘Cats’ while high out of their minds.” It featured irresistible testimonials from people who described watching the film of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical while on marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms or other substances, such as: “The most terrifying experience of my life. I swear to God my soul escaped me.”

Mr. Baron, who had not seen the piece before it was published, erupted, two Post employees said, furious that the story was “glorifying recreational drug use,” one of them said.

Ms. Coratti said that Mr. Baron was not “upset” but did “advise that we should be careful not to be seen as celebrating or championing recreational use of drugs.” So the dispute seems to be less about journalistic principle than about whether you like edibles.

Even those who are frustrated by Mr. Baron’s strong-willed style of management speak with reverence of his obsessive commitment to reporting. Still, some of The Post’s challenges will probably be left to his successor. Mr. Baron has told colleagues he will be around through next year’s presidential inauguration, but perhaps not much longer. “Marty will give us a great deal of notice before he retires, and that notice has not been given,” Ms. Coratti said.

But what separates today’s cultural conflicts inside newsrooms from previous generations’ is that they now play out, in real time, in public on social media. And they offer a window into an industry, and society, struggling to find its moral footing around issues of racism.

That seemed a painful takeaway from the recent Post article about a white woman who came as Megyn Kelly-in-blackface to a Halloween party at the home of a Washington Post cartoonist in 2018. The woman lost her job when she told her employer about the coming article, which readers reacted to with outrage and questions about its news value.

“Was this ⁩story intended to be a spoof of our culture?” Patrick Gaspard, who served as ambassador to South Africa during the Obama administration and is now the president of the grant-making Open Society Foundations, asked on Twitter. “Did they really invest all this Investigatory resource on this piece to shame this average person who holds no discernible power?”

The story’s handling inside The Post underscores some of the paper’s underlying tensions.

After a guest at the party who believed the woman was a Post employee complained to the paper, editors assigned it to two trusted veterans: Sydney Trent, an experienced former editor, and Marc Fisher, a reporter whom The Post also turned to when someone had to write about Mr. Bezos’s explicit text messages. Mr. Fisher, who is white, reportedly told people he had doubts about the news value of the costume party story, though he led the reporting and writing. Ms. Trent, who is black, saw it as worth doing, three Post journalists said.

White senior editors, including Mr. Baron and Mr. Barr, signed off on the story and sided with Ms. Trent on some questions of tone. That played to old reflexes and new ones: They chose to address a complex moment with the most traditional reportorial form, and they trusted the judgment of a black reporter with a long history of writing and reporting about race. And while many Posties were conspicuously silent about the story on social media, Ms. Trent stood by it, and posted it to her Facebook page to a positive reception.

But black reporters are, of course, not monolithic, and many reporters of all backgrounds at The Post found the 3,000-word investigation puzzling. A random person “dressing like a famous lady in blackface at a party 2 years ago seems the least of our concerns right now,” Ms. Attiah tweeted.

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Newsrooms Are in Revolt. The Bosses Are in Their Country Houses.

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — Real estate out here is too expensive for a working person, so the East Hampton Golf Club usually provides shared houses for its caddies. But Covid-19 means no boardinghouses, and no boarding means no caddies, and no caddies means that the media moguls who pay more than $400,000 to join (putting it in the middle range for initiation fees in the Hamptons) now must pull their own clubs around, which they’ve been telling one another reminds them of their youth, and which is just the kind of sacrifice that the coronavirus has brought to East Hampton.

That’s not all. The parties and attendant deals are off, and executives face a summer without tiki-torch-lit pathways leading to raw bar spreads on the beach, catered for tens of thousands of dollars for a few dozen friends. Parents are growing desperate: “With no camps being open, they’re looking for things to do,” said Boomer Jousma, a yacht broker, who has met that need by selling twice as many yachts as usual, including four of the $1 million-plus Vanquish brand in the last two weeks.

There’s also not so much Instagram. Everyone saw what happened when their neighbor, David Geffen, who paid $70 million for his spread on Lily Pond Lane in 2016, posted a picture of a sunset over his $590 million superyacht in late March and shared that he was “isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus,” provoking a wave of public shaming. Out here, they’re being careful to avoid both the disease and the anger seething out of New York City, where much of the working media is both exhausted from covering the story of their lives and in open revolt.

“People’s antennae are up higher than they have been before to what they say, and how it can be interpreted, and recognizing the unintended consequences of our actions,” said the Discovery executive Henry Schleiff, a mainstay in the mansion-dotted hamlet of Water Mill, who said he thought the shift toward less conspicuous consumption was for the better. “Not only are our actions and our worlds being filtered, but we’re listening more.”

(I spent a few days last week on the stretch between Sag Harbor and Montauk on assignment to see how the other media half was living, and found most media executives extremely cautious once they learned what I was writing about. “Now there’s an IQ test,” said another prominent Hamptons media figure. “I’d have to be insane to let you quote me.”)

New York’s media business appears to be in endless decline, but it is still one of America’s most visible stages for cultural conflict, drama and change. Top figures at Bon Appétit, Refinery 29, Variety, ABC News and The New York Times have been forced to resign or take leave this month, as were lower-profile executives, like the editor of Indy Week in North Carolina.

The ousters were driven, in many cases, by employees who believe the companies’ internal cultures don’t mirror the progressive and anti-racist values they sell. And while the immediate spur is the wave of protests against anti-black racism and police violence set off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the New York-based media had already been activated by something else: The clarity with which the onset of Covid-19 revealed who could afford to get out of town, who might be OK if they lost their job, who had money or family to fall back on. The backgrounds of Zoom calls, your colleagues’ Instagrams and casual Slack references revealed who was trying to get the air-conditioner in their Crown Heights studio working, and who was opening up the pool.

“People are scared and they’re seeing other people’s safety nets at a time when everything is uncertainty and they don’t have one, and everybody else’s safety nets are in their faces,” said Ashley Ford, 33 and living in Flatbush, who has written for outlets including Refinery29 and Marie Claire, and has a memoir due out next spring. “Not only are people mad, but they have time to talk about it.”

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

The coronavirus crisis forced America to look directly at its deep inequalities, and the media industry’s are no different. And even as media power has shifted somewhat from New York to Los Angeles, East Hampton remains a hub for executives, dealmakers and stars. When the lockdown arrived, most who could get out of New York did so — to the Hamptons for the old elite, to the Hudson Valley for the second tier.

The CNN president, Jeff Zucker, who is also the chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, is in East Hampton, where he is among the caddy-less golfers, as is the Discovery C.E.O. David Zaslav. The president of MSNBC, Phil Griffin, is in Hampton Bays. (Fox News’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, is still going into the Sixth Avenue office.) At the embattled magazine company Condé Nast, Roger Lynch, the chief executive, has been in mountainous Lake Arrowhead, outside Los Angeles; the artistic director Anna Wintour is weathering the crisis in Mastic, just west of the Hamptons. Troy Young, the president of Hearst Magazines, is on Shelter Island. A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, is in the Hudson Valley; the executive editor, Dean Baquet, has remained in his Greenwich Village apartment.

Their employees have made an art of deducing their surroundings from details of Zoom backdrops. One new media executive told me he issued specific instruction to his executives to be careful about what gets into the Zoom frame: no pool, no ocean, no nanny. At a recent WarnerMedia town hall, employees listening to an executive speak about his experience with police also took note of the hot tub over his shoulder.

Many of the most passionate hours of cable news are also produced from out of town, though the miracles of green-screen backgrounds conceal a host’s whereabouts. Sean Hannity has been working from the North Shore of Long Island since before the crisis, and Tucker Carlson’s show is produced near his homes in Florida and Maine. Chris Cuomo made his Hamptons basement famous. (Don Lemon, who has been living in Sag Harbor, is commuting most nights to CNN’s studio in Hudson Yards.) MSNBC’s progressive hosts went north: Chris Hayes to the Hudson Valley, Rachel Maddow to Western Massachusetts.

It’s reasonable to wonder whether this has affected the tone of coverage of the crises in New York. Were media leaders in the right place to cover the horror of the early days of the outbreak, when they weren’t being kept awake by sirens? And did they overplay the violent fringes of protests, when they’ve been overwhelmingly peaceful and the city’s broader mood has been a kind of revolutionary good cheer? Walking with a television executive past boutiques on Newtown Lane in East Hampton last week, I tried to convince him that his teenage children would be fine walking around their native Upper East Side unaccompanied. During the protests, the city could look terrifying on television, and reporters on the scene faced violence, mostly from police; but the mood away from the police billy clubs was not exactly the Reign of Terror. (Though stay tuned: When The New York Times forced out the opinion editor James Bennet over a controversial column a week ago, two employees reacted in Slack with a slackmoji of the word “guillotine,” prompting internal complaints, a Times reporter said. “We encourage constructive, honest dialogue among our colleagues but there are lines that can be crossed, and this was one of them,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said in response.)


Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

It’s not clear, of course, that staying in their country houses influences executives’ approach to coverage. After all, we’re all remote now, and both Mr. Zucker and Mr. Griffin feel as present as anyone else to their employees. The big stories are being driven by frontline journalists who have been taking personal risks — and, sometimes, contracting the coronavirus, to cover the dual crises in American cities. So the clearest effect of the exodus has been to highlight internal class divisions, which are boiling over in private Slacks and Zoom chats largely invisible to executives. There, employees are sometimes organizing to change their internal cultures, and sometimes challenging rules that had previously seemed sacred.

At The Times, some of that debate is playing out among employees. Some people active with the company’s union, the NewsGuild, compiled a Google document of articles they found objectionable to present to editors, two Times employees told me — but after an internal debate, they abandoned the project. On Saturday, The Washington Post’s union sent management 11 proposals, signed by 454 employees, to address discrimination and inequality in retention and promotion, require bias training, and update the stylebook on questions of race, gender and other aspects of identity.

At The Intercept, founded in 2014 by radical believers in free expression, the union’s diversity subcommittee challenged that central priority in an email to management: “Free speech is an important principle at The Intercept, but unit members are concerned that this commitment to free speech has detracted from a commitment to anti-racism in our coverage and in our workplace,” they wrote. The editor in chief, Betsy Reed, questioned that suggestion, and wrote in response that “we should also consider the question of whether, in the name of anti-racism, there has been pressure to suppress non-racist ideas that do not align with the dominant view of how the movement should seek to achieve its aims or what those aims should be.”

At Bloomberg, which is wedded to a culture of absolute neutrality, frustrated employees asked if they couldn’t, at least, tweet Bloomberg editorials supporting protesters. On a video call with reporters in Europe and Asia, the chief content officer for the regions, Heather Harris, replied that she would “be careful about only tweeting that and perhaps not tweeting something else from the other side.” (Ms. Harris said, through a spokeswoman, that she was “referring to political viewpoints in the interest of maintaining objectivity.”)

Underlying much of this tension is a sense — in media as in the rest of American society — of just how deep the gaps can be. I felt that sting last week when I saw a tweet from Amber Jamieson raging about rich New Yorkers who fled the coronavirus, leaving behind spacious houses and apartments that would have made for a relatively easy quarantine. “Genuinely hope they feel deep shame their whole lives,” she wrote.


Credit…Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

I was Ms. Jamieson’s editor at BuzzFeed News until earlier this year, and I couldn’t help thinking this was about me, since I headed up to Columbia County, N.Y., in early March, and so I called Ms. Jamieson, 34, an Australian native who lives in a studio in Bedford-Stuyvesant, to ask her what she meant.

“The biggest story in the world came to your front door and you left — that to me is insane,” she said, adding that her experience — the woman who works the front desk of her gym died, and she wrote about a funeral procession for another neighbor — has been essential to her reporting. “You left for your own personal safety and because it made you stressed and anxious.”

She paused.

“I feel bad that I feel like everybody should feel absolutely self-loathing and shame,” she said.

I asked Ms. Jamieson if what she was feeling was rooted in a desire for justice, or for better journalism, or just free-floating, Australian-inflected rage.

“All of those things,” she said.

Nothing personal, of course. Ms. Jamieson has reporter friends who left a small apartment for a place in Aspen; she understands that people have children, parents, health conditions. “They wanted more space for their kids, or to care for an elderly relative, OK, everyone has a reason,” she said. But she thinks that the bosses, and journalists, have a special obligation to stay: “Being a leader means staying with your people and seeing what they see.”

But Ms. Jamieson said it had been an eye-opening experience.

“It revealed the money in journalism — who has cash and who doesn’t and how much this industry is from people with trust funds or well-connected parents and they could stay in the Hamptons or the Catskills,” she said. (On that note, I should disclose again that I don’t extensively cover BuzzFeed, which I left in February, in this column because I have yet to divest my stock options in the company, as required by The Times.)

Those of us who have left the city, or (as in my case) have the luxury of coming back and forth, with a detour on assignment to Montauk, can take the heat. Here in the Hamptons, caddies aside, it’s really not so bad. Those who don’t have space to house a chef are relying on deliveries from the gourmet wholesaler Baldor, whose familiar white-and-black-logo trucks are circulating the island. The private school Avenues is opening a Hamptons branch for those parents who do not wish to return to the city in the fall.

Some executives are beginning to commute again, so the helicopter company Blade has started its seven-day service earlier than usual. Without day-trippers or middle-class vacationers and their crowded sublets, it has been, for the lucky few, “the summer we had long wanted, busy, but not too much so, and quiet enough to hear the birdsong,” according to The East Hampton Star.

The golfers will be OK too. The East Hampton Golf Club, a member told me, has changed its rules to permit autonomous robot caddies, which follow you silently through the greens.


Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

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New York Times Says Senator’s Op-Ed Did Not Meet Standards

Executives at The New York Times scrambled on Thursday to address the concerns of employees and readers who were angered by the newspaper’s publication of an opinion essay by a United States senator calling for the federal government to send the military to suppress protests against police violence in American cities.

James Bennet, the editor in charge of the opinion section, said in a meeting with staff members late in the day that he had not read the essay before it was published. Shortly afterward, The Times issued a statement saying the essay fell short of the newspaper’s standards.

“We’ve examined the piece and the process leading up to its publication,” Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This review made clear that a rushed editorial process led to the publication of an Op-Ed that did not meet our standards. As a result, we’re planning to examine both short-term and long-term changes, to include expanding our fact-checking operation and reducing the number of Op-Eds we publish.”

The Op-Ed, by Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, was posted on the Times website on Wednesday afternoon with “Send In the Troops” as its headline. “One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers,” the senator wrote.

More than 800 staff members signed a letter protesting its publication, according to a union member involved in the letter. Addressed to high-ranking editors in the opinion and news divisions, as well as New York Times Company executives, the letter argued that Mr. Cotton’s essay contained misinformation, such as his depiction of the role of “antifa” in the protests.

Dozens of Times employees objected to the Op-Ed on social media, despite a company policy that instructs them not to post partisan comments or take sides on issues. Many of them responded on Twitter with the sentence, “Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.” More than 160 employees planned a virtual walkout for Friday morning, according to two organizers of the protest.

Conversation and debate filled videoconference meetings for many newsroom departments on Thursday. The newspaper scheduled a town-hall meeting for Friday to allow employees to express their concerns to company leaders, including A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher; Dean Baquet, the executive editor; and Mr. Bennet, the editorial page editor.

Credit…Larry Neumeister/Associated Press

Mr. Bennet said in a video meeting attended by Mr. Sulzberger and employees late on Thursday that he had not read Mr. Cotton’s essay before it was published, according to two people who were present.

On Thursday morning, Mr. Sulzberger had sent an email to the staff backing the Op-Ed’s publication.

“I believe in the principle of openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with, and this piece was published in that spirit,” he wrote. “But it’s essential that we listen to and reflect on the concerns we’re hearing, as we would with any piece that is the subject of significant criticism. I will do so with an open mind.”

He added, “We don’t publish just any argument — they need to be accurate, good faith explorations of the issues of the day.”

On Thursday night, Mr. Sulzberger struck a somewhat different tone in a Slack message sent to company employees. He said that “a rushed editorial process” led to the publication of an Op-Ed “that did not meet our standards.” He added that an editor’s note from the newspaper’s standards department was on its way.

“Given that this is not the first lapse, the Opinion department will also be taking several initial steps to reduce the likelihood of something like this happening again,” Mr. Sulzberger said. He added that the opinion section would “rethink Op-Eds, generally” for the social media age.

Mr. Bennet had also defended publishing the Op-Ed early on Thursday, saying in an article published on the Times website that he disagreed with Mr. Cotton’s opinion but believed that it was important to publish views that ran counter to his own.

“It would undermine the integrity and independence of The New York Times if we only published views that editors like me agreed with, and it would betray what I think of as our fundamental purpose — not to tell you what to think, but to help you think for yourself.”

Through a Times spokeswoman, Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Bennet declined requests for interviews.

The Op-Ed was handled by Adam Rubenstein, an editor in the opinion section, according to staff members in that department. Several of them said they had not been aware of the article before it was published.

During the editing process, Mr. Rubenstein asked a photo editor, Jeffrey Henson Scales, for photographs of state and federal forces who were sent to the University of Mississippi in 1962 to quell segregationists protesting the enrollment of the first African-American student at the school. Mr. Cotton had cited the military’s role in desegregation to make the case for sending troops into the streets.

Mr. Scales raised an objection. “A false equivalence, but historical images are there now,” he wrote to Mr. Rubenstein on Slack, the internal messaging software used by Times employees.

“Yeah, there are a few in there,” Mr. Rubenstein responded, adding an emoji of a frowning face.

Mr. Scales objected again in the Opinion section’s Slack channel shortly after it was published online, calling the Op-Ed “highly inappropriate.” At the time he was unaware that the essay had already appeared online, he said in an interview.

Mr. Rubenstein referred a request for comment to a Times spokeswoman, who did not reply to inquiries.

In a video meeting of the opinion department on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Bennet and James Dao, the deputy editorial page editor, acknowledged that there had been a breakdown in the process of preparing the essay for publication, according to four people who attended it. The editors said that the article had been fact-checked, but added that they would fact-check it again. Mr. Dao did not reply to a request for comment.

Mr. Baquet, the executive editor, who oversees the news division, which is run separately from the opinion department, said he heard from a number of reporters and editors who believed that the Op-Ed did not meet the standards of The Times.

“When my newsroom is agitated, I respond to that,” he said.

He acknowledged that some readers might not be aware of the wall separating the news and opinion departments. He said he first saw the Op-Ed when it was posted online.

“I’ve had very sophisticated people say to me, ‘I had no idea that opinion and news were separate,’” he said, adding, “I don’t think we’ve always done the best job in the world explaining that to people and making the distinction.”

Mr. Baquet declined to comment on the substance of the Op-Ed, but said he agreed with those who believe the opinion section should include a wide range of views.

In the days leading up to the Op-Ed’s publication, Mr. Cotton called for military action against what he saw as violent protests in a series of tweets. In one he called for “No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.” Giving “no quarter” to enemy combatants is considered a war crime in modern international conflicts, under a statute of the International Criminal Court.

On Thursday, the senator tweeted his praise for Times leadership: “They ran my piece — even if they disagreed with it — and stood up to the woke progressive mob in their own newsroom.”

But after The Times said the Op-Ed did not meet its standards, Mr. Cotton’s office put out a statement: “We weren’t contacted by The New York Times in advance of this statement and our editorial process was similar to our past experiences at The New York Times and other publications. We’re curious to know what part of that process and this piece didn’t meet their standards.”

The senator had previously contributed to the opinion section, arguing last year that the United States should buy Greenland.

Mr. Cotton has also clashed with Times editors. In 2006, as an Army lieutenant serving in Iraq, Mr. Cotton called for the prosecution and imprisonment of Bill Keller, then the executive editor of The Times, and two of the paper’s reporters, Eric Lichtblau and James Risen. He accused them of violating espionage laws in reporting how U.S. counterterrorism officials had uncovered the funding schemes behind Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

The national mood has been brought to a boil by a polarizing presidency, a once-in-a-century pandemic and the protests touched off by the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis last month.

Mr. Bennet served as the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief before taking a job as the editor in chief of The Atlantic in 2006. He returned to The Times, as its editorial page editor, in 2016. He has hired several young writers for the opinion section, many of them with expertise in the tech industry, and added more conservative voices. Last year, Brent Staples, a member of the opinion staff, won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for a series of columns on race and America.

Mr. Bennet’s tenure has had its bumps. Last year, a federal appellate court found that Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate, could proceed with a defamation lawsuit against The Times over an editorial edited by Mr. Bennet that inaccurately linked her statements to the 2011 shooting of a United States congresswoman.

Two years ago, Mr. Bennet hired a journalist as the opinion department’s lead tech writer, only to rescind the job offer after a social media storm over her past use of slurs and friendship with an internet troll who had worked for a neo-Nazi website.

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3 Newspapers Ask China to Reverse Decision to Expel American Journalists

The publishers of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post on Tuesday released a statement critical of the Chinese government’s decision to bar American journalists for the three publications from working in China.The unusual statement, signed by A.G. Sulzberger of The Times, …

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The Future of BuzzFeed: Win or LOL?

On June 17, five months after BuzzFeed’s newsroom was devastated by layoffs, a large inflatable rat appeared on the doorstep of the company’s Manhattan headquarters.

Scores of staff members, including those at its offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, staged a walkout that day as part of an effort to force Jonah Peretti, the site’s founder and chief executive, to recognize a newly formed union. His position was well known at the time: Collective bargaining was not a good idea for BuzzFeed.

His employees, known for generating infinitely shareable bits of digital culture (what color is this dress?), feared for the site’s future. The layoffs had claimed 15 percent of the staff, and an internal survey revealed that only 56 percent of those still standing expected to be working at BuzzFeed in a year’s time.

On Tuesday, another bombshell: Ben Smith, the founding editor of BuzzFeed News, who expanded the editorial mission to include serious fare amid the meme-worthy material, announced that he would be leaving after eight years on the job to become the media columnist for The New York Times.

The news hit a BuzzFeed that is on better financial footing than it was during the season of the rat. The site booked a profit for the second half of 2019, according to three people with knowledge of the business. They did not specify how large it was. For the year, the company generated around $320 million in revenue, or 6.6 percent above the previous year, the people said.

There’s a twist to BuzzFeed’s newfound financial health: The closer the company gets to achieving a year’s worth of profit, the more its backers are likely to agitate for a return on their investments, either through a sale or a public offering.

Mr. Peretti acknowledged the possibility of a change in an interview on Thursday. “The most important thing is to do what’s right for the company,” he said. “And if being part of a larger company allowed us to grow our mission, I would be open to that.”

He also noted the recent “difficult period,” adding, “Our plan this year is for BuzzFeed as a whole to be profitable.”

The company’s financial boon underscores how BuzzFeed has changed from the internet laboratory Mr. Peretti hatched out of a small Chinatown office in 2006. The site once eschewed banner ads. Now it is filled with banner advertising and sells cookware at discount retailers.

“Our model evolved,” Mr. Peretti said.

An emphasis on native advertising — listicles and such sponsored by brands — eroded once Facebook opened its channels to companies, allowing them to post marketing messages on the site.

“We had to shift, and our team was able to adjust,” Mr. Peretti said.

BuzzFeed now has a growing commerce business that includes branded cookware at Walmart and an affiliate division that brings in money any time a reader buys something from an online store when coming from a link in a BuzzFeed article. Last year, those two businesses drove nearly $68 million in revenue, almost double that of the previous year, the people with knowledge of the company said.

Mr. Peretti thinks that model can be expanded. Readers who come across a story about a particular hotel, for example, might end up booking a stay there. BuzzFeed wants a commission for that transaction. He also has plans to create subscription revenue from events, what he calls “paid social.”

Now that he has matured as an executive, Mr. Peretti, who in BuzzFeed’s early days seemed driven by a mad scientist’s interest in sussing out what people like to share online, has gotten more interested in translating his knowledge of digital culture into dollars.

At a company of roughly 1,100 people, the news division employs 200 journalists and costs about $18 million a year, according to two executives with knowledge of the company’s finances. Mr. Smith, who oversaw the layoff of dozens of journalists during what he described as “a tough week” in January last year, was given a mandate to find new ways to subsidize the newsroom, only to express frustration that BuzzFeed’s sales team rarely, if ever, sold ads against news articles, these people said. BuzzFeed News was eventually allotted two salespeople of its own.

“I’ve been really pleased over the last year to see BuzzFeed investing in the business side of news,” Mr. Smith said in an interview.

Mr. Smith’s departure will not change the company’s identity, Mr. Peretti said.

“We want to do everything possible to continue Ben’s legacy,” he said. “We want to break news and be fearless and stand up to power to do all the things that define what BuzzFeed News is.”

The addition of a robust news division lent BuzzFeed prestige, but questions swirled around the effort as it got started in 2011, about five years after the site went live. Reporting is expensive, and investors questioned the cost. Other journalists were skeptical that a company known for memes could compete with established news organizations. But under Mr. Smith, BuzzFeed News was a two-time Pulitzer finalist and a winner of a National Magazine Award, a George Polk Prize and several other prizes.

Readers have sometimes confused the whimsical posts that BuzzFeed is known for with the news operation. BuzzFeed appeared to acknowledge the mixed brand message in 2018, when it moved the news articles to a new web address,

Despite questions from early BuzzFeed backers, Mr. Peretti saw the news division as vital. “There is a long tradition of media companies subsidizing or partially subsidizing news,” he said.

He said he sees the potential for its journalism to make enough money to pay for itself — though he didn’t specify how it could achieve that goal. “We want to operate as a whole in a responsible way that will allow it to grow,” Mr. Peretti said. “Sometimes to grow things you need to get costs in line and find operating efficiencies.”

A lot will depend, he said, on how Mr. Smith’s successor plans to manage the group.

Venture capitalists typically look for an exit at about the 10-year mark, when their funds usually close, and some early BuzzFeed investors have either passed that period or are hitting it this year. They can also get their money back by selling shares to another investor, known as a secondary offering. BuzzFeed’s current investors include the venture firms Andreessen Horowitz, Lerer Hippeau and NEA. NBCUniversal is also an investor.

But any sale or public offering would require Mr. Peretti’s endorsement. He has great influence over the board. The company’s recent growth “means we have the choice and freedom to stay independent,” he said. “And we don’t need to raise more capital.”

BuzzFeed has so far raised $500 million at a valuation of $1.7 billion. Its investors are aware that, even as the company continues to grow, it is unlikely to attract buyout offers near that price, three people with knowledge of the matter said. They added that BuzzFeed could enhance its financial profile by merging with a competitor.

The picture they paint is one in which BuzzFeed combines with a business that would lift the total revenue to over $400 million, with about 15 or 20 percent of that accounting for profits before tax. The resulting company could then be more attractive to a big company, or make for a public offering.

In a 2018 interview with The Times, Mr. Peretti discussed the possibility of such deals. Last year, BuzzFeed was in talks with Group Nine, the publisher of sites like The Dodo and Now This, according to several people familiar with the matter. (Recode first reported on the discussions.) Complicating matters was that both businesses shared a board director, the venture capitalist Kenneth Lerer, who bowed out of discussions because of the conflict of interest. Around that time, he also stepped down as BuzzFeed’s chairman.

Group Nine is also helmed by Mr. Lerer’s son Benjamin Lerer, a friend of Mr. Peretti’s. The discussions about a deal went far enough that cost savings were analyzed. Group Nine and BuzzFeed have sizable video operations, and a tie-up would have meant cuts in that area, the people said.

Later in the summer, the talks ended, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions. One issue was who would manage the new business. Scenarios included either Mr. Lerer or Mr. Peretti as chief executive, with the other as chairman of the board. That question was never resolved.

“I’ve known Ben Lerer a long time,” Mr. Peretti said in the Thursday interview. “I had a conversation with him, and I’ve had conversations with C.E.O.s of a lot of other companies, and I think there’s value to being in the mix and talking to people and being open for the right deal at the right time.”

Mr. Lerer said the timing of the talks was not right, “or else we would have done something.”

Last year, Group Nine acquired PopSugar, a digital publisher focused on millennial women. Mr. Lerer left open the possibility that a BuzzFeed deal could still take place.

“I have immense respect for Jonah, and I will always have an open dialogue with him and others,” he said.

A month after the June walkout, BuzzFeed recognized the union, the NewsGuild of New York, which also represents Times employees. Mr. Smith was charged with handling the matter from the management side, and he was keen to come to an agreement with the staff.

He was also growing restless. In the past few months, he wrote more than a dozen articles, a change from the recent past, when his byline appeared a few times a year. In November he wrote a column analyzing the succession planning at The Times. Dean Baquet, the executive editor, will retire in a few years, and Mr. Smith offered a lengthy exegesis on who might succeed him.

In December, at the Lambs Club, a restaurant on West 44th Street, Mr. Smith met with Mr. Baquet and Sam Dolnick, an assistant managing editor of The Times and a member of the Ochs-Sulzberger family that controls the paper. They discussed the media-columnist job over lunch.

“I thought, ‘Wow that would be a lot of fun,’” Mr. Smith said. “I had been eager to get back to reporting for a while. This made sense.”

Mr. Smith, who starts March 2, won’t be a part of the Times union.


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‘May the best woman win:’ New York Times endorses 2 Democratic candidates for president

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What the Year in Business News Looked Like

Not all business news happens in the boardroom.

Over the last year, photographers at The New York Times have chased business stories across the world, from oil fields to garbage dumps, from Silicon Valley to Kazakhstan. They have captured the struggles of electric rickshaw drivers in India, ventured into China’s national meat reserve and documented the flooding in the Mississippi Delta.

Here are our picks for the best photographs and graphic illustrations that we produced in 2019.