Marty Baron, ’76, ’76G, ’14H, executive editor of The Washington Post, returned to Lehigh to celebrate the 125th anniversary of The Brown and White with other alumni, faculty and students in Zoellner Arts Center on Thursday, Sept. 26.
Baron, a former editor in chief of The Brown and White, spoke with current editors Marissa McCloy, ‘20, Jordan Wolman, ‘21, and Lucy Zhou, ‘20, about his experiences working at the Lehigh newspaper and the future of journalism.
Baron said he stays connected to Lehigh because he wouldn’t be where he is today without his education from the university.
“I feel a debt to the university that I want to pay off,” Baron said. “I’m never going to pay off the debt, but I want to make payments on that debt.”
Jack Lule, the chair of the journalism department, and Matt Veto, the faculty adviser to The Brown and White, admire how far the publication has come since it began in 1894.
“One hundred and twenty five years is a great accomplishment for a newspaper, especially a college newspaper,” Lule said at the event’s networking reception.
Veto said the paper has had many changes through the years. The Brown and White is now an online publication, active all day on various social media accounts. The staff has expanded to include a data and graphics department, an investigative team and technological advances through devices such as drones.
Baron said the new digital age is beneficial for the future of journalism, but has some setbacks. More tools can be used to allow more effective ways to tell stories, and news can be spread to a wider audience. However, he said there are economic challenges for printed papers and online advertising.
Online news has led to the spread of fake news, which Baron said originated in a political setting and is often spread by people who use the term. He defined fake news as falsehoods rather than human error.
Counteracting fake news is difficult, he said, because people tend to gravitate toward sources that align with their personal views. Baron said newsrooms should try to be more transparent and focus on the stories that ordinary audiences can relate to more.
Baron mentioned the mission of The Washington Post when describing the duty of a newsroom.
“Tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained,” Baron said during the event.
He said reporters must focus on being objective and eliminating opinions or partisanship, and said the reason we have the First Amendment is for accountability.
“Journalism is key to the foundation of democracy,” President John Simon said.
Regarding the recent impeachment investigation into Donald Trump’s presidency, Baron said news organizations should be presenting the public with the facts as to what the president did and the responses that followed.
Baron emphasized the importance of whistleblower laws in the U.S. and said his team at The Washington Post is looking at every aspect of this story.
Tom Peters, ‘76, a classmate of Baron’s, was impressed with where Baron is now in his position at The Washington Post.
“Lehigh made you work hard,” Peters said. He said he is not surprised where some alumni and fellow classmates have ended up working.
Lule gifted Baron a print of his first byline, notably written by “Martin” Baron, which he changed to “Marty” during his sophomore year.
Baron was also an editor of The Miami Herald and The Boston Globe and said his journalism education at Lehigh was analogous to what he would later do in his career.
Learning about ethics, how stories should be framed and investigating topics the administration tried to hide were experiences that prepared Baron for the professional world.
“If we’re thinking about the future, we also have to think about the past,” Baron said. “We have to think about what values brought us here, what traditions brought us here.”