The University of Arizona School of Journalism honored New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet with the 2017 Zenger Award for Press Freedom for championing the news media’s rights to question authority and for defending the public’s right to know.
Given by the school since 1954, the award is named after pioneering journalists John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger. Past winners include Walter Cronkite, Katharine Graham, Bill Moyers and 2016 recipient Dana Priest.
Baquet accepted the award before 170 guests at an Oct. 20 dinner at the Westward Look in Tucson. Lorraine Rivera, a 2004 UA journalism graduate, was the emcee and interviewed Baquet afterward.
“It is such an honor to receive this award for press freedom at a time when the truthful, mission-driven press is under assault,” Baquet said. “And it is humbling when I look at the list of past winners, all of them courageous journalists who exposed wrongdoing and told truth to the powerful.”
On Oct. 19, Professor Nancy Sharkey interviewed Baquet as part of the Downtown Series' "Truth and Trust in the Global Scene," at the Fox Theatre with the theme, "Redefining Journalism in the Post-Truth Era."
Baquet, 60, oversaw The New York Times’ coverage of Vladimir Putin and Russia, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for revealing techniques that included assassination, online harassment and the planting of incriminating evidence on opponents.
He also has been a leading voice refuting President Trump’s assertion that the news media are the “enemy of the American people,” and cautioned the administration against trying to change libel laws.
“It illustrates, perhaps, not understanding the role of the media," Baquet told CNN on April 29. “We’re supposed to be tough. We’re supposed to ask him hard questions.”
Baquet worked with UA journalism professors William Schmidt and Sharkey at the Times, where he was a metro reporter and special projects editor for the business desk in the 1990s. He returned in 2007 as Washington Bureau chief, national editor, assistant managing editor, managing editor and then executive editor in 2014.
"Dean is an extraordinary, tenacious journalist," said Schmidt, a deputy managing editor when Baquet was named managing editor in 2011. "Under him, The Times has been tireless in pursuing corruption and malfeasance. In one recent two-year period, The Times alone filed 14 freedom of information lawsuits, seeking the release of critical government documents hidden from public scrutiny."
Schmidt introduced Baquet at the Zenger dinner.
Since becoming executive editor, Baquet has overseen the most far-reaching strategic overhaul in the history of The Times, including major investments in new journalistic areas like video and podcasting and interactive media, Schmidt said.
"But through this period of sweeping technological, economic and now political disruption, when the President himself has ... directly attacked The Times as a failing organization," Schmidt added, "Dean has continued to hold fast to his core belief that journalism — the relentless pursuit of what is real and true and important — is not only necessary but essential."
Baquet joined the Los Angeles Times in 2000 and became managing editor and editor. In November 2006, Baquet defied orders from his corporate bosses to make cuts in the newsroom and was forced out after giving a rousing speech to the staff.
Earlier, Baquet was a reporter for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, his hometown, before going to the Chicago Tribune, where he led a team of three reporters that won the 1988 Pulitzer for investigative reporting for uncovering city corruption.
His brother, Terry Baquet, is an editor at The Times-Picayune and part of a team that won a Pulitzer for public service in 2006 for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
“I’ve got two boys with two Pulitzers. Not many mothers can say that,” Myrtle Baquet told Editor & Publisher in 2006, four years before her death at 88.