In the weeks after the Cotton op-ed, #newsroom-feedback served as a heated pandemic-era office watercooler. This was healthy enough — albeit a distinctly un-Timesian way of handling dissent. The Times had always been a place where employees grumbled in the cafeteria, and complaints might slowly wind their way to the editorial cabal atop the newsroom known as “the masthead,” at which point any decisions would be handed down quietly. Now, Dean Baquet, the paper’s executive editor, was in #newsroom-feedback, answering critiques about the Times’ journalism from not only his reporters but also the paper’s software developers and data scientists.
The conversations could become tense. Employees would paste tweets criticizing the paper into the channel; the journalists would get defensive; someone would leak the argument to friends with Twitter accounts; and the ouroboros of self-criticism would take another bite out of its tail and everyone’s time. “Gang, it would be great to shift the tone of this discussion,” Baquet jumped in to say during a fight about whether “Opinion”-section provocateur Bari Weiss’s description of a “civil war inside The New York Times between the (mostly young) wokes [and] the (mostly 40+) liberals” was a reductive argument, a mischaracterization — or perhaps an unwelcome assessment with a modicum of truth.
The dustup laid bare a divide that had become increasingly tricky for the Times: a large portion of the paper’s audience, a number of its employees, and the president himself saw it as aligned with the #resistance. This demarcation horrified the Old Guard, but it seemed to make for good business. “The truth can change how we see the world,” the Times declared in an advertisement broadcast at last year’s Academy Awards, positioning itself as a bulwark in an era of misinformation.
On Election Night, as the Times’ polling appeared to have overestimated Democratic response, subscribers experienced a partial repeat of 2016’s anguish about whether they were living in a bubble. Four years of upheaval and a summer of unrest, followed by the looming end of the Trump administration, had some inside the paper wondering the same thing. Was whatever might have been lost in the course of the Trump era gone for good — and good riddance?