About Dean Baquet Not Having a College Degree

Could you get a job today at the New York Times without a college degree? The short answer is no.

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In the ’80s, the Associated Press Managing Editors Association met with academic accrediting groups and worked out a deal: The APME would work with the accrediting body to set standards for journalism programs that would turn out actual reporters and in return, the managing editors would only hire folks with journalism degrees or the equivalent experience. And that is pretty much the state of the art now.

I have 48 years in this business. I’ve worked in all forms: newspapers (reporter, editor, columnist, editorial writer), magazines (writer, contributing editor, here and abroad), books (two histories and a textbook), radio, television (writer and producer) and public relations (globally for Exxon). See my bio.

I have no degree.

I majored in aeronautical engineering at Michigan and, in ’66, was the only black kid there. The Ku Klux Klan tried to kill me, an effort that left me permanently crippled and always armed (pdf). A klansman ran me down while I was crossing the street. An ambulance came, but the medic said they didn’t pick up n--gers, and I walked, on a broken hip, to a hospital that would not treat me.

Because of my hip, I spent a lot of time in my room listening to the radio. One day I heard the announcer telling n--ger jokes. So I walked down to the station, barged into the station manager’s office and demanded an end to racism on the air. He asked me if I thought I could do better at delivering a half-hour newscast than the guy who offended me. I said of course. He said I’d start the next day. That’s my introduction to the news.

I decided I liked it and wanted to learn more. So I applied for a job at the Michigan Daily, which paid a salary and I worked at both media outlets. In April 1968 I covered the presidential primary election of George Romney—Mitt’s daddy—and found the experience of a presidential campaign electrifying, and in the long run, more interesting than building rockets.

I quit school the next day and drove back to New Jersey. It was a Thursday. That Monday I walked into the NBC personnel office and said I’d like a job in the newsroom. I had just covered Romney’s campaign and wanted to do that for a living. The personnel director said they happened to have an opening in their election unit and if I wanted it, I could start Tuesday.

And I did.

But that was a half-century ago.

I might get a job delivering newspapers today. But I wouldn’t be writing for one.