New York Times National Editor Talks 2020 Coverage Of Michigan

May 3, 2019

Marc Lacey has reported for The New York Times as a foreign correspondent from Nairobi and Mexico City and in the U.S. from Washington and Phoenix. Now, he serves as the National Editor managing Times reporters embedded all over the country. WKAR Politics Reporter Abigail Censky spoke to him about how he’s planning to cover Michigan in 2020.


Marc Lacey has reported for The New York Times as a foreign correspondent from Nairobi and Mexico City and in the U.S. from Washington and Phoenix. Now, he serves as the National Editor managing Times reporters embedded all over the country. WKAR Politics Reporter Abigail Censky spoke to him about how he’s planning to cover Michigan in 2020.

WKAR Politics Reporter, Abigail Censky: Marc, thanks so much for being here.

New York Times National Editor, Marc Lacey: Thank you.

AC: So, I'm a politics reporter and my life is measured in election cycles right now, as the national editor of the New York Times how are you thinking about a state like Michigan, that's going to be important in deciding the 2020 election?

ML: That's a great question. There are going to be New York Times reporters here, all over Michigan, for many, many months to come. Because, as you know, Michigan is just a key state. And understanding Michigan, understanding the mood of Michigan is is key. And so you may not know right away that they're here. Times reporters sometimes fly under the radar screen, but they're going to be roaming around here in East Lansing, Lansing, and Detroit and all over the state.

AC: So, going out of the 2016 election, I think the media writ large, was criticized for their coverage of that election...what regrets do you have? What things were you proud of?

ML: So, I believe that the media did not adequately prepare its readers, viewers for the results of the election. We've learned lessons from what occurred last time around, we're spending far more time out in the country away from big cities, talking to people. And getting the mood of a country is a complicated thing. It's not necessarily each person that you run across, that you bump into randomly captures the mood of a particular place in Michigan. It really takes someone spending considerable time reading tea leaves, talking to people going to meetings, and really just getting to know the issues of important in that community. I think we've done a good job leading into this. And I think we have to do a whole lot more.

AC: ...That element of ultimately trying to connect more with the community and convince them that you're not bringing in these New York City values to cover their place that they live, and they know... that's a hard sell in some of the Midwest and Rust Belt...I think people are naturally a little bit skeptical of that. And, when I go to the President's rallies, people will ask me, ‘Oh, are you with CNN? Are you with the New York Times? No. Okay, I'll talk to you. I trust you.’ There seems to be this pervasive distrust that seeps in, given the current political rhetoric. How do you, as an editor help manage that, for your readership, but also for your reporters?

ML: The climate for reporters in the United States right now is extremely challenging. Our correspondents, I would say a day does not go by in which someone that they approach for an interview, does not say ‘fake news’ and turn their back and walk away. That's part of the reality of, of life in America right now. And it's unfortunate, you know, especially if we're doing a piece in which we're trying to seek views from supporters of Donald Trump, and we're struggling to get people to talk to us. I still think the majority of people, when a Times reporter comes in, you may have to listen to a little bit of bluster. You may have to be patient, but they don't want to give up the chance to talk to millions of people. You're basically handing this megaphone that's bigger than they are to them, and saying, ‘What do you think?’ And that's hard to resist. And so there's still many people who do want to talk to us. But we do encounter the attitude that you're talking about, we encounter hostility. It's dangerous out there for reporters, I believe right now.

AC: So obviously, I started saying, you know, Michigan is going to be an important state for 2020. Do you think there's also danger in that and kind of self selecting, you know ‘Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania? These are the places folks!’

ML: Yes. I, I do believe that we should be informed by the past. And, you know, history shows that Michigan's a key state...Wisconsin, you didn't mention Florida, so we should keep that in mind. I mean, political professionals have data galore, that makes clear that a state like Michigan is going to be key. But let's also...and I think this was a problem back in 2016.... let's also be open to the possibility that the things won't happen, as they always have in the past that there could be something new and surprising, some dynamic that we don't understand. And that's what happened last time, and who knows what the next dynamic will be. And I think part of that reporters have to be well informed, but they can't be know it alls.

AC: Mark Lacey, National Editor at the New York Times. Thank you so much for speaking with me.

ML: Great questions. Thank you.

Follow AbigailCenskyonTwitter: @AbigailCensky