Perfect Timing: Journalist's Tech and Writing Skills Lead to The New York Times
If it were not for his failure to master third-year physics, CSUF alumnus Walt Baranger '86 (B.A. communications) would never have visited the Daily Titan newsroom to inquire about switching majors.
On the other hand, if it hadn't been for his early interest in engineering and computer science, Baranger wouldn't have such a fascinating career, culminating in his current position as senior editor of news operations at The New York Times.
It all began back at University High in Irvine, where Baranger wrote for the school newspaper. He enjoyed it, but he also loved playing with computers, which he's done since 1972. So he decided, following his brief U.S. Navy service, to study the sciences at Cal State Fullerton.
His timing was perfect, and his skills have paid off. After spending three semesters on the Daily Titan, one as managing editor, Baranger's unique combination of technological prowess and writing and editing abilities led to an internship and then full-time work at the San Diego Tribune and then the San Diego Union. There, he was one of just three people on the news staff who knew all about computerized typesetting and photo typesetting. He single-handedly developed a system to put the horse racing page together more quickly and efficiently.
His outstanding work ethic, technological know-how and editorial abilities led to a 1989 out-of-the-blue phone call from The New York Times, whose editors paid for his trip to New York City. He was hired almost immediately.
Baranger's Times career has meant logging 100,000 miles a year of air travel to the paper's international bureaus, as well as management of the paper's systems supporting coverage of such major events as the Democratic and Republican conventions. He also works on the NYT Stylebook and participates in the newsroom's strategic planning. In between, he wrote a business column, and still writes news stories whenever he can.
"You wouldn't expect any student to wind up at The New York Times," noted Baranger's former Daily Titan adviser Jay Berman. "But if any one of them did it, it would be Walt. From the start, he was such a standout and such a leader, a good force within the newsroom. He was the kind of guy who could get things done, and a good writer. Everyone loved having him on the staff."
Nearly 30 years later, Baranger stops by campus a couple of times a year, serves on the College of Communications Dean's Council, and keeps in touch with fellow Titan alumni.
"The time [since graduation] has gone by so fast," Baranger said in a telephone interview. "The Daily Titan has turned out a whole raft of highly successful journalists. It's unimaginable that I would have landed the NYT job without my Daily Titan training."
Baranger, in fact, has seen Titans wearing CSUF baseball hats or T-shirts in the strangest places, such as in Baghdad's green zone and in Times Square.
Back East, he and his family live in Fairfield, Conn., and he commutes two hours into New York City every day. His favorite bureau to visit is in Hong Kong, a "tremendous city," although he knows the best hotels and restaurants to visit throughout the world. On vacations, he and his wife take train trips throughout the U.S.
"Walt Baranger is the perfect alumnus," noted William Briggs, former dean of CSUF's College of Communications. "He's a successful professional with an amazing career, always a Titan so generous with his time and efforts to help our students. If he's not in Afghanistan or New York, he's on a train coming west to help us. Journalists are storytellers, and Walt's stories are the best."