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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Martin Baron selected as the 2023 Richman Fellow

Martin “Marty” Baron was selected as Brandeis’ Richman Fellow for Public Life. The Richman Fellow is awarded to someone “whose contributions have had a significant impact on improving American society, strengthening democratic institutions, advancing social justice or increasing opportunities for all citizens to realize and share in the benefits of this nation,” according to the award’s web page. Baron is the former executive editor of The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald, as well as an editor at The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. 

In 2021, while at The Post, Baron announced his retirement after a long career in journalism and receiving 18 Pulitzer Prizes. One of those prizes was for his work on The Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. That work was then made into the Oscar winning film “Spotlight,” where Baron is played by Liev Schreiber. As a Richman Fellow, Baron was on campus on March 15 and 16. There was a screening of “Spotlight,” a question and answer panel with students and an award ceremony in which Baron gave a speech. 

The first event was a screening of the film “Spotlight” in the Levin Ballroom on March 15. The discussion after the screening was moderated by journalism professors Neil Swidey and Ann Silvio. In addition, Professor Emerita Eileen McNamara participated in the discussion, as it was her column that inspired Baron to focus on the Catholic Church story. Baron emphasized that “this was not an attack on the faith. This is a project to show the church is not living up to the principles of the faith.” Both Baron and the editors at the Boston Globe knew that there would be pushback going into this story, especially due to the large Catholic population in Boston. There was, at times, frustration amongst parishioners surrounding the article. McNamara even stated that she received mail from parishioners calling her a “self-hating Catholic.” However, both Baron and McNamara emphasized what a major impact this article and the entire investigation had on ordinary individuals. They also talked about “Spotlight” and how it successfully portrayed what was happening. “Spotlight got most of it right. The screenwriters made an effort to get the culture of the newsroom and of Boston,” McNamara noted. The conversation continued with a discussion surrounding Baron’s role at the Globe. He was the first Jewish editor of the Boston Globe, and the first one that did not come from inside the Globe. Baron also received praise for his work from his colleague McNamara, as she stated, “Marty is a calming influence and a very even-handed fellow, and that certainly rubs off. I learned to restrain myself under his leadership.” 

On Thursday, March 16 in Brandeis’ Alumni Lounge, Professor Neil Swidey opened his Ethics in Journalism course up to the entirety of the Brandeis Journalism Department. During this class, students were able to engage with Baron and ask him questions.

After Baron’s visit to the Ethics in Journalism course, he accepted the Richman Fellow award in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall. The award was introduced by Provost Carol Fierke, and Baron was then introduced by Professor Swidey, who used to work in Baron’s newsroom at the Boston Globe. Swidey made many glowing remarks about Baron, claiming that “He set the bar high for the newsroom and made us believe we could do anything.” After this introduction, Baron began his speech, which was titled “In Defense of Objectivity.” Baron discussed how in today’s media, it has become an unpopular opinion to support objectivity. However, as Baron puts it, “I have no reservations about being a dissenter.” Baron believes that objectivity is important to journalism, and to every other profession: “If we understand what objectivity means and stick to principles and we can do a better job at getting the truth,” he explained. After his speech, he answered questions from the crowd, which was made up of students, faculty and some of Baron’s former colleagues. He emphasized many of his previous points: the significance of journalism in society, and advice for the future journalists in the room. Baron explained, “Don’t just talk to the leaders and the advocates, talk to the ordinary people … we can’t just be in the process of telling people things, we have to show people things.”

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