In his first journalism class at Northwestern University, New York Times Business Editor Dean Murphy (BSJ80) was given simple instructions: write an article about what you saw walking to class. The small assignment set the tone for his next four years and provided a lifelong lesson.
“That power of observation—that stuck with me forever, in everything that I’ve done,” states Murphy. “There’s no replacement for that. You can be the smartest person in the world as a journalist, but if you’re sitting in your room and you have no engagement with the outside world, it doesn’t do much good.”
After graduating from Northwestern University, Murphy earned a Master of Arts in International Relations and Affairs from John Hopkins University. He took a job at the Los Angeles Times, where he eventually worked as a foreign correspondent based in Poland and South Africa.
In 2000 Murphy joined the staff of The New York Times, first covering Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign. Looking for a new challenge, Murphy moved to the business section as deputy editor in 2010 and was named editor in 2012.
“I view covering business like covering politics. There are institutions that need to be held accountable,” states Murphy. “You essentially find the weak link and figure out why it’s weak and determine whether it can be strong.”
Murphy sees parallels between the questions underlying politics and business, many of which become magnified during elections.
“Elections always bleed into the business world. There’s always a business component even if it’s simply who’s giving the money,” says Murphy, adding that campaigns often influence the urgency with which common topics are covered.
“We cover trade anyway, but it became such a flashpoint in this campaign that we then assigned reporters to go and do some deeper dives on what it is about trade that is resonating so much with people,” states Murphy.
“I think what’s important that the campaign has shown is that you need to be more explanatory in talking about things like trade. You need to connect the dots,” added Murphy.
Although many stories cover familiar territory like trade, the 2016 election prompted The New York Times to make unprecedented moves. In September, the publication ran articles calling out Donald Trump’s lies surrounding the birther controversy and his proposed tax policy. The following month, The New York Times decided to run the full transcript of the “Access Hollywood” tape, despite their well-known profanity policy. Both decisions drew a mix of criticism and praise.
Murphy views the New York Times’s coverage as a reflection of the nature of the campaign as well as broader shifts in journalism.
“You have this very unusual election coinciding precisely at the same time that we’re reinventing the way we tell our stories,” says Murphy. He notes a shift toward incorporating greater voice in journalistic writing and taking a more directive approach to coverage.
Despite some controversy, The New York Times has seen site traffic increase dramatically. As in any election cycle, the number of readers who will continue engaging with content is unknown.
Murphy hopes that readers will find connection points in other stories once the election is over. He believes that business and economics coverage are not “cornered off subjects”, but rather central to the way people live, work and spend their free time.
“The actual goal,” states Murphy, “is that readers like yourself will find The New York Times as a destination location because they want to know what’s going on in their world. Business and the economy just happen to be a piece of that.”
(Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)