Live Blog: Bill Keller Discusses the Future of the News

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller will be on NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook this morning discussing “his paper and the radically changing news business,” according to a promo. Live blog updates from the Media Mob here once the program gets started.

(Scroll to the bottom for latest updates)

9:27 A.M.: Especially gripping episode of BBC Newshour this morning. We’ll get going once that’s done. If you want to listen along to WBUR live with us, that can be done here. Right now they’re playing a Carla Bruni cover of David Bowie. It’s not as good as Ms. Bruni’s early work, according to the BBC’s man in Paris.

10:00 A.M.: We’re just getting started now. Major funding is provided by Liberry Mutual. Here’s the premise of the hour: The Times was in charge of the news last century, but what about this century.

10:07 A.M.: Here’s Tom Ashbrook’s intro: “Being Top editor of The New York Times is no job for the weak-kneed… the news business is in epic turmoil!”… “Newspapers, what would be with out them?” #existential.

10:09 A.M.: Keller: “Change is pretty much a constant in the business we’re in. That didn’t start with the internet.”

10:10 A.M.: On charging for the news, Keller says: “I started out with my head and heart in different places. My head said ‘we should charge with this.'” … The Times is different from small bits of information flowing on the internet. “I basically bought my head into line with my heart and thought if the pay model is carefully designed it ought to work.” (Media Mob archive: Interview with Khoi Vinh, former design director).

10:13 A.M.: Keller says The Times forthcoming paywall subscription fee will be modest but hasn’t been set yet.

10:14 A.M.: Ashbrook asks Keller about Sulzberger’s statement that the The Times won’t exist in print one day. Keller says he will place money that The Times will be in print :”10 years from now, 20 years from now,” but it could become a “boutique” product like vinyl. “I expect that in my lifetime there will be a New York Times in print.”

10:15 A.M.: Ashbrook asked about The Journal.  Keller takes a long pause. “Well, Mr. Thomson says a lot of things … What’s the old line about ‘lies, damn lies, and statistics’?” Now he’s going through the calculus behind the Journal‘s ciruclation win (paid online subscribers + print subscribers). “I feel fine about our competitive posture with The Journal,” Mr. Keller said.

10:18 A.M.: Keller on Murdoch, “His major impact in American media has been Fox News … that impact has been to introduce a level of cynicism into the public debate.” Mr. Keller isn’t sure how much Mr. Murdoch will affect American life through The Journal. He said that’s “still an evolving publication.”

10:20 A.M.: Weather break.

10:25 A.M.: Mr. Ashbrook played some tape of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin. Katherine from Waltham calls in to say that her husband watches Fox News but she reads The New York Times. Mr. Keller says “Glenn Beck … described himself as a radio clown once upon a time, which I thought was an interesting burst of candor.” Mr. Keller talking about people who don’t read The Times but watch Fox: “What they know about The New York Times are things they’re heard from its critics.

10:26 A.M.: Mr. Keller invokes the expression “Freedom of the press belongs to anyone who owns one” to talk about the internet (where we all own a press). “It does worry me,” he said.

10:28 A.M.: Keller: “I think the future landscape of news media includes, in addition to small voices shouting into the void, a mix of survivors and start-ups … The Wall Street Journal will probably be a surivor. NPR will be a survivor.”

10:29 A.M.: Mr. Ashbrook asks if there’s going to be enough coverage in this new landscape. “Oh dear,” Mr. Keller said.

10:31 A.M.: Robert from Connecticut! Liz from Worcester (“Wooster”)! Listeners are sharing their experience watching the news industry decline. Liz is concerned that The Times took cookbooks and children’s literature off the bestsellers list. Her point was that there’s no centralized cultural conversation led by The Times now.

10:34 A.M.: Our only option, Mr. Keller said, is “offer readers the best we can do.”

10:36 A.M.: Walt from Hingham, Mass. is on the line. He said that he has a subscription to The Times and normally just looks at the front page. He thinks that The Times sort of bashes conservatives on the front page. “To some extent we bash everybody,” Mr. Keller said.

10:37 A.M.: Mr. Keller is paraphrasing Daniel Okrent, former Times public editor, on the paper’s liberalism (Mr. Okrent in the Media Mob archive). “I don’t think we’re a paper for liberals or conservatives. I hope we’re a paper for everyone,” Mr. Keller said.

10:38 A.M. : Weather break. It’s 79 Fahrenheit in Boston.

10:41 A.M.: 1-800-423-TALK if you want to speak to Mr. Keller.

10:44 A.M.: A caller asked about the Judith Miller fiasco. It happened in Mr. Keller’s early days (“Hello, welcome to the rollerderby,” Mr. Ashcroft said). “We let down our readers in our role as accountability-holders,” Mr. Keller said. “I think it was a little bit of falling into the worst trap in journalism, which is [buying into] the conventional wisdom of the time… sometimes reporters go overboard in order to have a frontpage exclusive.”

10:46 A.M.: Now Mr. Keller is talking about the Eric Risen and James Lichtblau‘s reporting on Bush wiretapping. “Our policy on stories is ‘we publish them when they’re ready’ … if that’s the day before an election, fine.”

10:48 A.M.: Gary from Augusta, Ga. says he lives a fast-paced life and that newspapers have more than he needs and he’d rather read the news online and click buttons and see headlines. “I can have all the news that i need in my day in 15 minutes rather than bump through a bulky newspaper where I have to flip to section D.” Mr. Ashbrook asks if Gary pays anything for his news. Gary feels that he pays by clicking on ads. Another pause from Mr. Keller. “I do the same thing that Gary does,” but he says that he usually wants to know more about a subject (his example: the war in Afghanistan) than is available online. He says clicking on ads won’t support the cost of the The Times newsroom.

10:51 A.M.: Ashcroft asks about Apple, Google and The Times: How will they split revenue? “Fortunately that’s a decision that will be made a little bit above my paygrade,” Mr. Keller said. “I have an iPad. I already have an array of news site apps and magazine apps. I really like the ability to read in depth on a platform like that. I also still read print.”

10:55 A.M.: Mr. Ashcroft and a caller ask Mr. Keller what The Times value-add is. Mr. Keller talks about longer investigative pieces. But lower on the food chain “it matters to me as a citizen and somebody who cares about this country,” Mr. Keller said about local news. “When that goes away it’s a sad thing…we’ve tried some hyperlocal experiments on the web … so far it’s a long way from replacing what was lost in small communities.”

10:58 A.M.: The last question: Does Mr. Keller have any advice for the kids these days who are thinking about journalism? “Absolutely go into it!” he said. “Worst case scenario, if you learn the skills it takes to be a good journalist … those skills are transferrable to an awful lot of businesses.”

11:00 A.M.: That’s all for Mr. Keller (Aaron Sorkin is on the show next). Overall he sounded cool, calm and collected but never snarky — a man under pressure doing ‘his best.’ [End.]

Live Blog: Bill Keller Discusses the Future of the News