After he steps down as executive editor, he’ll head an effort to cultivate watchdog reporting to help counter a “crisis in local news.”
Dean Baquet, who got his start in journalism at local newspapers and made his name as an investigative reporter, will lead a new local investigative journalism fellowship program at The New York Times when he steps down in June after eight years as the newspaper’s executive editor.
During his tenure as executive editor, Mr. Baquet, 65, urged his journalists to pursue investigations that could yield the highest possible impact. Now, he and a group of investigative editors plan to teach young journalists how to do the work on a local level.
“The Times has always wanted a way to do something about the crisis in local news,” he said. “We happen to be successful as an institution; we happen to be doing quite well. And local journalism is not doing so well.”
Fellows will work closely with Mr. Baquet and the group of editors, whom he will select, and produce articles that The Times will allow local news organizations in the affected areas to publish without charge.
Mr. Baquet said that candidates would include young journalists from backgrounds that are underrepresented in newsrooms, especially reporters who might lack the financial support or time to finish long-term projects.
He declined to specify how much The Times would spend on the fellowship program, but he described it as “a significant investment.” He added that the size of the first fellowship class would be announced later.
Details of the yearlong fellowship are still being worked out — including its start date — but Mr. Baquet said on Tuesday that he would make a full-time commitment to running the program after he steps down as executive editor, and Joe Kahn, the managing editor, takes the helm.
“I’m planning on working long hours at this,” Mr. Baquet said.
He said he planned to be directly involved in editing and talking through the reporting with fellows. The editors joining him will also work on the fellowship full-time and not be borrowed from desks at The Times.
The new fellowship program will complement The Times’s other programs for up-and-coming journalists, including the newsroom fellowship and editing residency, which provide mentorship to early-career reporters and editors.
Mr. Baquet said that A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The Times, raised the idea of a new fellowship program earlier this year.
“We started to talk about it, and it was immediately appealing,” Mr. Baquet said. “It was a way for me at this point in my career to give back to the profession. And it was also a way for me to teach — hopefully teach — young journalists and others how to do investigative reporting.”
In a news release announcing the fellowship, Mr. Sulzberger said that Mr. Baquet’s “deep passion for local and investigative work” would pit “his relentless journalistic mind and ability to nurture talent against one of our industry’s most urgent needs.”
Mr. Sulzberger described the decline of local investigative journalism as a “national tragedy,” saying fewer and fewer people across the country had access to information about their community and that many local news outlets lack journalists who can uncover wrongdoing in local governments.
“It’s our hope that this fellowship can play a small role in addressing this dangerous and growing societal gap,” he said.
Mr. Baquet got his start in local newsrooms like the The States-Item and The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, his hometown, and at The Chicago Tribune, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative work that uncovered corruption in City Council committee spending.
During his time as executive editor of The Times, the newsroom won 18 Pulitzer Prizes during a period punctuated by the political rise of Donald J. Trump and a pandemic that disrupted the globe.
When the fellows arrive at The Times and begin their work, Mr. Baquet said, he wants them to think of stories on a truly local level.
“I actually think that local investigative reporting done right and done powerfully can find a bigger audience, too,” he said.
He added that he wanted to make sure the stories would not be told just through a national lens.
“We should be looking at institutions in places like Oklahoma and Louisiana,” he said. “That’s the way I envision it.”