IT’S KAHN! New York Times Picks Next Executive Editor

Publisher A.G. Sulzberger announces that Joseph Kahn will succeed Dean Baquet

The New York Times announced that managing editor Joseph Kahn will succeed Dean Baquet as executive editor. He will take over on June 14. While Kahn and Baquet have worked closely together in recent years, the two men’s personalities could not be more different. Whereas Baquet comes off as warm and garrulous, friends and colleagues who have known Kahn going back as far as college recalled an initial impression of great reserve. “The percentage of [journalists at The Times] that feel like they know him or feel close to him or have had a social experience is smaller than it was with Dean when he came into that job for sure,” said Jodi Rudoren, a former associate managing editor for audience and editor-in-chief of The Forward. “That’s something that he has been working on for years. He is quieter, less extroverted, less walk-around-the-newsroom-and-backslap-people than Dean is.” But, she noted, a reserved personality is not unprecedented among Kahn’s predecessors. “So is Bill Keller, by the way. And so was Joe Lelyveld, oh my gosh.”

In a statement announcing Kahn’s promotion, A.G. Sulzberger, who is making his first executive editor appointment since he was named Times publisher in 2017, said, “We couldn’t ask for a better leader for our newsroom amid a historic convergence of events. And as one of the architects of our digital transformation, Joe’s vision will be crucial as we seek to become even more valuable to readers around the world.” Kahn said in a statement, “I’m deeply humbled to lead a global newsroom of immensely talented journalists who provide original, on-the-ground, indispensable reporting about the most important news of our time. The New York Times will continue to play an essential role in producing and protecting independent journalism.”

There are, of course, similarities between Kahn and Baquet. “They both have an intense love of really, really ambitious investigative reporting,” said Lydia Polgreen, a former associate managing editor who also served as Kahn’s deputy when he was international editor and recently rejoined The Times as an opinion columnist. Both men have won Pulitzer Prizes, a virtual prerequisite for the job. And on a lifestyle level, they tend toward similar directions. “They both have a love of the finer things in life,” Polgreen said. Both live in Greenwich Village and love fine food, though Baquet is a teetotaler, and Kahn, an avid tennis player who skis every year in Alta, has routinely impressed colleagues with his selection of obscure wines.

As with Baquet, people say Kahn is funny and can show off a dry observational wit, though nobody who spoke with The Fine Print could exactly recall anything he’d said that was funny. “They have very different personal leadership styles and management styles and operate quite, quite differently in the world,” Polgreen said, “so there will probably be stylistic differences, but I think the core of what both of them stand for, which I think is deeply in line with the values of the institution, remains the same.”

Kahn also represents a departure from the last two editors selected by the current publisher’s father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. Baquet was the first Black executive editor, and he succeeded Jill Abramson, the first woman in the role. Kahn is the first white man to run the paper since Keller stepped down in 2011, which is notable in an era when the paper has been criticized for not making people from marginalized communities feel welcome. In 2020, the publication of a Sen. Tom Cotton Op-Ed calling for the use of federal troops against Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020 led to waves of controversy.

Those fault lines have been visible in internal matters, as well. For instance, when discussing the newsroom union’s concerns about returning to the office, New York Times Guild unit chair Bill Baker told The Fine Print he’d noticed a divide in how employees view the paper’s culture. “The company says that one of the reasons we need to be back in the office is for the culture, it’s for the culture of The New York Times. And many people say that the reason they don’t want to go back into the office is because of the culture at The New York Times,” he said. “Most of those people are women and people of color.”

Kahn’s appointment might look like a doubling down on that culture, but Rudoren believes that impression to be primarily the result of a lack of communication. “I think that Joe’s commitment to diversity and to having The Times be a great place to work is full and serious,” she said. “It is probably expressed more in small groups than in public. I’m not sure that everybody knows what he thinks about those things.”

Responding to the cultural divide within The Times is only one of the challenges facing the new executive editor. The audacious success of its subscription strategy is starting to show its limits, and The New York Times brand, long a target for politically divergent critics, has become a recurring online punching bag. 

As Baquet neared The Times’s traditional retirement age (he turned 65 last September), Kahn’s ascent to the executive editorship took on an air of inevitability. But his life has long been marked by a sense that he was destined to summit an institutional peak. The son of a Northeastern supermarket tycoon who co-founded Staples who graduated from Harvard, Kahn always, even in his wavy-haired youth, always appeared comfortable in august settings. “He never brought up his family’s wealth. As we got to know each other over the years at really close quarters, it was no longer a secret. It got out, but he would never bring it up,” said Joseph Menn, a Washington Post reporter who first met Kahn through The Harvard Crimson. “I was a public school kid and had a keen attention for who’d been to a fancy prep school and he shared some of those characteristics” — another Crimson colleague recalled Kahn wearing Brooks Brothers and chewing tobacco. “He is comfortable dealing with authority,” Menn noted, “not to say he’s deferential.”

“Is it really likely that anybody’s going to become the editor of The New York Times? No, but it would not have surprised me because we were all full of ourselves,” said Jessica Dorman, the director of publications at The Historic New Orleans Collection who at Harvard succeeded Kahn as president of The Crimson, “and it would not have surprised me because he was so good.” (Kahn’s predecessor as Crimson president was recently ousted CNN president Jeff Zucker.) From the start of his Times career, Kahn was seen as a potential leader. “I hired him when he was 33 knowing that he would run the paper someday,” said former assistant managing editor Glenn Kramon looking back on when Kahn started at The Times in 1998. “He seemed like 33 going on 55.”

All through his rise, Kahn worked closely with other future news executives. At The Dallas Morning News, he worked with current Los Angeles Times executive editor Kevin Merida. In Shanghai in the mid-’90s, he reported alongside two other future top editors — Marcus Brauchli, who would go on to run both The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and James Harding, who became the director of BBC News and editor of The Times of London.

Kahn made his name as a reporter in China, developing an interest in the country before starting his professional reporting career. “He was talking about China before he got to Dallas,” recalled Robert Decherd, who gave Kahn his first job out of college as the CEO of the company that owned The Dallas Morning News. In 1989, he covered the Tiananmen Square protests and was forced out of the country after canvassing in the countryside for reactions. In 1994, he started The Wall Street Journal’s bureau in Shanghai in a converted computer factory and covered Deng Xiaoping’s economic transformation.

In 1996, he was briefly put in charge of the Far Eastern Economic Review, which The Journal’s parent company Dow Jones then owned. It was his first major editorial leadership role since college, but he returned to work as a reporter at The Journal in a matter of months. Though he was torn away from the Peoples’ Republic when he joined The Times, he returned as Beijing bureau chief in 2003, winning the 2006 Pulitzer in international reporting with Jim Yardley for their series on ragged justice in China.

When Baquet appointed Kahn his managing editor in 2016, he singled out his new right hand’s experience in China. “He has managed a period of severe tensions with China over our reporting there, while ensuring that we produce unmatched journalism about the world’s fastest-rising power,” he wrote in the announcement. That experience has only become more crucial as China’s global influence has expanded. “There’s no story more consequential than China, whether it’s in oil and gas or whether it’s in minerals or whether it’s in food or whether it’s in how the UN is going to be run, or WTO, or war and peace,” said James McGregor, who was CEO of Dow Jones in China while Kahn worked for The Wall Street Journal. “Having an editor that knows China is absolutely very important.”

But even when entrenched in reporting on China, Kahn was always aware of his place in a larger institution. “The Wall Street Journal would be airfreighted to Shanghai and arrive a week or ten days later. Joe would read every one of those papers cover to cover, on the theory that you need to know everything the organization is doing, you need to understand how the place prioritizes news,” said Brauchli, who worked with Kahn as China bureau chief for The Journal. Reading the entire paper that he worked on was a practice Kahn had adopted as early as college, recalled Casey Lartigue, who worked as a sports reporter on The Crimson and now runs a nonprofit supporting North Korean refugees. “Joe always has been deeply aware that the journalism he was doing was part of the journalism of a larger organization,” said Brauchli, “which had a bigger place in the world.”

We’ll have much, much more about Joe Kahn in the coming days…