Marty Baron is not naturally a creature of the spotlight. But ever since the 2015 release of Spotlight, the Oscar-winning drama about The Boston Globe's 2001 investigation into the Catholic Church's child sexual-abuse scandal that he oversaw while editor of that newspaper, he has grown more comfortable in his role as a public figure. Now, as executive editor of The Washington Post, which he joined in 2012, Baron shepherds a newsroom of 750 that has helped prove, with its run of monster scoops on the Trump White House, that there may be a successful modern business model in compelling journalism. On Saturday, he will be in conversation with Globe and Mail editor-in-chief David Walmsley as part of the Hot Docs Curious Minds Weekend in Toronto.
I didn't want to start with Donald Trump, but about an hour ago, Drudge tweeted: 'Trump set for shock announcement!' Do you ever feel your phone buzz and think, 'Oh, God, what has Trump done now?'
I don't look at it that way. I don't follow him on Twitter –
Really? Why not?
Because we have staff who do that, and I figure that if he says something consequential, I'll get a notification – our own notification or another news organization. I don't need to follow him.
Twitter aside, is it sometimes enervating to follow the twists and turns of this President?
Ah, that's not sort of the way I view it. I think we've become accustomed to the idea that he's going to do seemingly surprising things. So as a result, they're no longer surprising.
Your fact-checkers have determined that Trump made more than 2,000 false or misleading statements in his first year in office. How do you avoid the perception that the Post is out to sink him, when you track his – what we would call lies – so fervently?
We haven't called them lies, first of all. We've called them falsehoods and misleading statements. Our objective here at the Post is to be an independent news organization. During the course of the election campaign, we provided very aggressive coverage of Hillary Clinton. We also did the same on Bernie Sanders. If the President is making statements that are untrue or misleading, we have an obligation to tell the public that. Now, if the public comes away from that saying that we're trying to sink the President, I don't know that there's very much that I can do about that, other than to make sure that our reporting, overall, over time, is fair and honest and honourable and independent. And the public will come away with whatever impression they come away with. But I don't think that it's a smart exercise for me or anyone else who works here to be taking the measure of public opinion of us at every moment.
One measure you do consider is traffic. In the fall of 2015, you had about 67 million unique monthly visitors. What are the numbers now?
In January, we were at 91 million unique visitors. The New York Times was 92 million, something like that. That's U.S. visitors.
You've shifted lately to a focus on subscriptions. How do you stop your staff from rolling their eyes when the goalposts keep changing?
I roll my eyes, too. But I'm actually pleased with the shift toward subscriptions. All of us should be, because that means we can do more of the kind of journalism that we think is most valuable. The public is drawn to investigative work. They're drawn to great narratives. They're drawn to deep, explanatory pieces. They're drawn to more thoughtful journalism, more comprehensive journalism. That's what we have always wanted to do, and so I think it's a real plus that now the business model has shifted to subscriptions rather than just generating lots of traffic.
How important is diversity for your newsroom?
It's something we pay a lot of attention to. It's diversity in terms of things like gender and race and ethnicity, but also experience. You know, this country has been at war for many years now, yet there are very few veterans who work in our newsroom. Sadly, perhaps, that's just part of the American experience, and if we really want to understand what Americans are thinking about, and really understand Americans as we should, then we should probably have more veterans in our newsroom.
Ideological diversity, too?
Every kind of diversity, we're interested in.
You – or at least a character based on you – were already in an Oscar-winning film. And now your paper is in another film that's up for an Oscar this weekend. So, which is better: Spotlight or The Post?
Hah. I am not going to answer that question.
Okay, fine. Will you be rooting for The Post to win best picture on Sunday?
That would be wonderful. Yeah. Sure. Of course.
Jeez, why do you hate Lady Bird?
I haven't seen Lady Bird yet.
Do you get out much? Do you even see movies?
Occasionally. I'm not a regular moviegoer, but yeah, I saw one this past weekend.
And what did you think?
Ahhh – I'm not going to say. I'll leave that to the critics.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Marty Baron: The Fourth Estate in the Age of Trump is on March 3 at 3:30 p.m. at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto (hotdocscinema.ca).