DU Alumni

Alumnus Andrew Rosenthal pens New York Times editorial on gun violence

"I think that journalism is going to continue because we need it to have a democratic society. To say that it’s been undergoing change in the last 10 years is an incredible understatement, but it’s happening faster, and it’s requiring us to think really hard," says Andy Rosenthal. Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Alumnus Andrew Rosenthal is editorial page editor of the New York Times. Photo courtesy of the New York Times

As editorial page editor of the New York Times, University of Denver alumnus Andrew Rosenthal (BA ’78) was instrumental in the newspaper’s controversial decision to run a front-page editorial on the topic of gun violence — the first time an editorial has appeared on the New York Times’ front page since 1920.

Rosenthal authored the piece, which ran on Dec. 5, three weeks after the deadly terror attacks in Paris and just days after mass shootings in Colorado Springs, Colo., and San Bernardino, Calif.

The University of Denver Magazine asked Rosenthal about the decision to run the editorial on page one — and what happened after the piece ran.


Q: What led to the front-page editorial? What made this issue rise above any of the others you have written about in the last 80–90 years?

A: [Publisher] Arthur Sulzberger and I felt that we needed to make a big statement about guns, and he said that putting it on the front page would make it loud and clear. It’s not that we thought it was more important than any other issue over the last 95 years. Obviously, there have been some huge ones. But we were not in a position to write page-one editorials about the Nazis or Stalin or the McCarthy era. We are in that position today. Arthur suggested doing a page-one editorial on the Thursday before the piece ran. I had concerns about it, and we discussed it in light of the possibility (later proven to be true) that there would be a connection to terrorism in the California shooting. But we both felt that when you boil out the cosmetic differences, mass shooters like the ones in California, or Colorado Springs, raise similar issues for Americans to consider about the open and free market in firearms, especially those that we believe have no business in civilian life. And so we proceeded. First, Arthur asked Dean Baquet, the executive editor, who is charge of the newsroom and page one, if he was OK with the idea. Dean was enthusiastic.


Q: What were the pros and cons of taking this step?

A: The big thing in favor of doing an editorial on the front page is that it would be a powerful signal of how concerned we are about guns. It’s interesting how powerful, in fact, the printed page still is. The interest in the article was made exponentially greater by its position on the page. Arguing against the idea was the simple fact that we have always divided news and opinion, both in terms of our organization and in the report. In print, editorials go on the editorial page. Would it seem like we were violating that cherished separation?


Q: What kind of feedback did the Times get?

A: The editorial was fabulously well read, among the best-read articles we’ve ever published online, with nearly 3.5 million page views and the most reader comments we’ve had on any article. The vast majority were supportive, but we received a lot of criticism too.


Q: What have you learned from the experience?

A: The power of print is still profound. Two of the most visible successes we’ve had at The Times recently have been the page-one editorial and the delivery of a million cardboard virtual reality viewers to our print readers. We also learned to put editorials on page one very sparingly.


Q: Do you have any regrets about it?

A: I wish I had mentioned that President Obama has said some very good things about guns. We were very hard on political leaders and their cowardice on guns, and mentioning his remarks would have been a good thing to do. We had limited space and a lot to say, so that didn’t happen.


Q: What do you think the nation’s journalism professors would say about the choice?

A: Well, I didn’t take any journalism classes, so I don’t know how any particular professor would react. In general, I hope they would find it an act of journalistic courage, a historic event and, whether they agree with the details or not, at least a bold stand on a big issue. My son put it on his Facebook page and my daughter texted me “making #history daddyo.” My wife said it was a brave thing to do. That was praise enough for me.




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