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Rebecca Corbett on Weinstein, The Wire, and Girls within the Newsroom

Rebecca Corbett on Weinstein, The Wire, and Women in the Newsroom

Like many ladies in media who spend hours hunched over tales, tracing the information and pursuing tales, the New York Instances’ assistant managing editor Rebecca Corbett is powered by snacks.

Corbett is an under-the-radar sort of editor, a rarity at a time when journalists are made to really feel hyper conscious of their private manufacturers. However her title was pulled right into a nationwide dialog when Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed one of many 12 months’s most essential books: She Stated, an account of how the three—sure, three of them—revealed the sexual harassment allegations in opposition to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and in flip, helped spark the present #MeToo motion. Corbett is sprinkled all through the pages, a reminder that it at all times takes a village, that we’re at all times standing on the shoulders of giants. Within the acknowledgements, Kantor and Twohey write, “Rebecca Corbett, our editor on the Instances, is our true north.”

However again to the snacks. Greater than midway by way of the guide, Kantor and Twohey recount Corbett’s intense work ethic: “She by no means appeared to cease working—as a result of a lot of her tasks had been secret, and it was onerous to gauge how a lot she was actually fielding—and at instances appeared to outlive on black tea and dark-chocolate-covered almonds.”

Sitting on a yellow velvet sofa within the Instances workplace a number of months after the guide’s publication, I ask Corbett if she at all times attaches a snack to a particular mission. (In her present function, she helps oversee the investigations crew on the paper.) It’s true, she says, that till this fall, there was a Dean & DeLuca close to the Instances workplace that equipped her darkish chocolate behavior. However extra lately, she was spending her time engaged on a data-driven investigation that examined the 11,000+ tweets President Trump has despatched since taking workplace. For that, she relied on little cups of M&Ms from the Instances snack station. “They’re not excessive sufficient chocolate content material for me, however in desperation…” she explains. “I used to be very agitated throughout that interval as a result of we had very tight deadlines, and all of it got here right down to the previous couple of days.”

Kantor and Twohey’s tireless descriptor is true. Because the guide stories, Corbett labored till 7 A.M. the evening earlier than the Weinstein piece formally revealed. It’s not like she might go dwelling between shifts; Corbett commutes from Baltimore and normally stays at inns for her few days in New York each week. She spends most of her workday speaking to reporters and going to conferences, leaving little time to be alone with an enormous story. And he or she must be fully immersed, one thing that normally can’t occur till she begins enhancing at 6 or 7 P.M., when most individuals are on their method dwelling. When journalists talk about Corbett, it’s usually reverential. Kantor and Twohey describe her as “sixtysomething, skeptical, scrupulous, and allergic to flashiness or exaggeration.” However a scarcity of press begs the query: Who’s the lady who guided a number of the decade’s most seismic investigations?

Her profession began in Maine, the place she labored at a neighborhood newspaper in her school city. After rising up exterior Philadelphia, she attended Colby School with intentions of going to medical college, however her love of writing led to an English main and transient plans to turn out to be a documentary filmmaker. That newspaper job made her fall in love with life in a newsroom, the place journalism gave you an excuse to be nosy, to ask stuff you usually couldn’t ask, to go locations you usually couldn’t go.

From there, she moved onto a paper in Connecticut and later Baltimore, the place she joined The Baltimore Solar. “The Solar is the place I grew up, each as a journalist and as an individual,” she says. Corbett stayed for greater than 20 years, enhancing two Pulitzer Prize-winning tasks. “At the moment, The Solar was this paper with these outsized ambitions… It at all times punched above its weight.” Within the years since she left, the paper was moved below Tribune Publishing, and its workers has shrunk. “It’s been actually, actually harm by downsizing, [by] layoffs, and there’s far fewer individuals with expertise and native information. It’s onerous to maintain up, and it’s an enormous metropolis with plenty of consequential information.”

Throughout her time at The Solar, Corbett proved her skill to identify and foster proficient reporters. She mentored a university stringer named David Simon, higher identified for his later work writing and creating The Wire, which President Obama as soon as referred to as “one of many best—not simply tv reveals however items of artwork—within the final couple of a long time.” Corbett says it was fairly clear that Simon was one thing particular. “He thought huge, and he thought ambitiously. Typically I needed to say, ‘no,’ and ‘hurry up,’ however he thought by way of narratives, he considered the sociology… That was exceptional in somebody as younger as he was, and it was simply exceptional altogether.” Corbett made a cameo towards the top of the sequence and was a part of the inspiration for the character of Gus, a metropolis editor who’s an amalgam of some individuals from The Solar.

Corbett on the premiere of The Fourth Property on the Tribeca Movie Pageant after celebration in April 2018.

Cindy OrdGetty Pictures

When Corbett lastly made her approach to the Instances in 2004, she’d already turned down two earlier gives from the paper; as soon as proper earlier than Dean Baquet, the paper’s present government editor, went to the Los Angeles Instances in 2000, and as soon as in the course of the Howell Raines editorship. Finally compelled by the Instances’ dedication to formidable work, she got here on as an enterprise editor and labored out of the Washington D.C. bureau. In her first 12 months, Corbett was requested to edit what grew to become the investigation into the Nationwide Safety Company’s warrantless wiretapping. (On the time, then-President George Bush informed the Instances that they’d have blood on their fingers in the event that they went by way of with publishing the piece.) As Corbett explains, the blowback to that mission helped result in Edward Snowden, which in flip result in Cambridge Analytica, which has now influenced the present dialog about how the tech trade handles information and privateness.

In 2013, She Stated stories, Corbett was appointed to the Instances masthead, and it grew to become 50 % feminine for the primary time. Again when she labored on the D.C. bureau, they used to joke—although it wasn’t actually a joke—that you could possibly match all the ladies into the women room without delay. Now, staffing has modified, and he or she says the Instances newsroom as a complete is full of way more ladies, although Corbett doesn’t suppose a girl would essentially report a narrative in another way than a person. “However I feel having extra ladies and extra minorities and folks with completely different backgrounds, individuals who grew up in North Dakota and never New York Metropolis, creates a broader sense of story.”

Two years in the past, she edited the Weinstein investigation and helped information Kantor and Twohey’s reporting. When requested concerning the cultural shift that occurred nearly instantly after the piece got here out, she stated, “I feel that the actual backside line is that ladies had been fed up, that ladies all over the world in varied cultures all had some expertise of this and wished to talk out about it and felt that this was a gap.” However some of the putting outcomes, to her, got here from the businesses who had their very own wake-up name. Invoice O’Reilly was pressured out shortly after the Instances revealed sexual harassment allegations in opposition to him, whereas Weinstein was fired three days after their investigation. “[O’Reilly] wasn’t fired as a result of Fox Information was shocked and stunned to be taught of those settlements. What occurred is that advertisers revolted and advertisers of luxurious items, who had ladies as customers, thought, ‘This isn’t going to look so good.’”

“To me, the scariest factor as an editor isn’t what you see in a narrative, however what you don’t see.”

This type of work, the sort that may change the course of historical past, requires a mixture of cheerleading, teaching, and interrogating on Corbett’s half. (At The Solar, there have been instances she would babysit for a reporter’s youngsters once they all of a sudden needed to work on a Saturday.) An investigative story, she explains, must be persuasive. There must be proof, and it has to have the ability to stand as much as questions. Her job is to problem the report, to verify her writers are coming to the proper conclusions. “Among the worst journalism errors should not when reporters write tales and never any truth is unsuitable, however they’re including two and two and getting 5. To me, the scariest factor as an editor shouldn’t be what you see in a narrative, however what you don’t see.”

Kantor and Twohey’s guide gives a cautious clarification of their reporting course of and perception into what it’s prefer to work alongside an editor of Corbett’s caliber. However with such a behind-the-scenes job, she admits it may be tough to know the way it all comes collectively for different editors. “Often you hear about editors’ work from reporters, and I don’t know whether or not they’re giving a very honest and balanced description,” she says. “I do suppose there’s a little bit of thriller to it.”


Madison is a workers author at ELLE.com, masking information, politics, and tradition.

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