New York Times executive editor Bill Keller does some tired stomping and finger-wagging from atop a his new pulpit this weekend with his second go as a columnist at Hugo Lindgren’s redesigned New York Times Magazine. In this filing, to be published Sunday, Keller writes “All the Aggregation That’s Fit to Aggregate,” which amounts to a half-baked screed against aggregation and blogging, couched in some almost self-aware personal satire. Ultimately it’s more auto-erotic asphyxiation than self-flagellation, leaving Keller sounding both serious and attuned to the new media idea that swinging at rivals gets attention. But he also comes across as stuffy, arrogant and threatened. He throws punches in the direction of, mostly notably, Arianna Huffington, but also at media reporters not worthy of naming, media thinkers like Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis, and maybe unintentionally, about 90% of young people hoping to be SERIOUS REPORTERS, who are practicing by writing on the internet. But for Keller, it’s hard to land a shot from up there on the throne. Here we go! Press Clips, our daily media column.
Fall Back, Chief: “According to the list makers at Forbes, I am the 50th most powerful person in the world,” Keller begins. He rattles off some other honors bestowed upon him so he can shrug at them and wonder why anyone cares about him. “What the hell? I run a newspaper.” he writes. “What makes me so important?”
Keller slags media reporters, who have long been a thorn in his royal side: “When I did a radio call-in show a while back, a media reporter considered it an event of such urgency that she [sic] live-blogged the entire hour,” but he doesn’t deign to link to the work and let his readers judge the importance (or entertainment value) of it for themselves. (That’s something blogs and aggregators do: provide dismissive or supportive context for something, and then link to it in order to let readers see what they’re talking about.)
Instead, Keller plays dumb, calling “the orgy of self-reference…so indiscriminate, so trivializing” and spitting on “flocks of media oxpeckers who ride the backs of pachyderms, feeding on ticks.”
But the man runs one of the most important media organizations in the world. He fails to see, or at least fails to acknowledge, the importance of the media coverage of their hirings, firings and personal politics, ignoring the fact that the people he selects and removes from these positions — and their beliefs and individual ideologies — decide how and what news is presented to the world. They have the power, for example, to help start wars or to sink a new local business. And we’re not supposed to wonder at all about the people behind that?
“By turning news executives into celebrities, we devalue the institutions that support them, the basics of craft and the authority of editorial judgment,” Keller writes. In other words, just trust me. Uh, fuck no?
Keller then transitions into an attack on Huffington’s aggregation practices: “too often it amounts to taking words written by other people, packaging them on your own Web site and harvesting revenue that might otherwise be directed to the originators of the material. In Somalia this would be called piracy. In the mediasphere, it is a respected business model.” But since Keller spent over half of the piece laughing off other reporters and thinkers, by the time he gets to this point, the piece ends and we’re left with: maybe the internet is killing journalism.
But just to be a bitch, let’s laugh at how Keller fails to acknowledge that the very publication he’s writing for does the same exact thing. The new, pardon my language, blog, launched to promote the Times Magazine redesign, The 6th Floor, just yesterday published a post aggregated from Vanity Fair about how Julian Assange hates cats. The rest of the internet did the same thing a month ago, but that’s not the point — they’ll get better!
The point is that not only do economic circumstances call for multifaceted styles of writing all under one roof (we can’t all have loans from Mexican billionaires), but that stuff can coexist with real reporting, just like it does in the New York Times. The idea that journalists might do worthy work at the Huffington Post, Keller says, is like “hiring a top chef to fancy up the menu at Hooters.” And there he just sounds like a surly ass.
Hundreds Out at AOL: Meanwhile, Huffington has some issue of her own, larger than a bad column by an old man, with reports coming out left and right that AOL will start laying off large numbers tomorrow. Business Insider has the full memo from AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, which notes that in addition to 700 lost jobs in India, 200 will be booted from the Stateside editorial team to make room for Huffington’s incoming content squad.
Rape Article Still Stinging: Elsewhere in the Times world, outrage is carrying over into a second day for those who think an article in yesterday’s edition blamed an 11-year-old’s gang rape on her, instead of the 18 men suspected. There’s a petition still going strong, and the paper published a Letter to the Editor today voicing the same concerns.
In response, a Times spokesperson told The Cutline that the paper should not be blamed for merely quoting the townspeople’s thoughts on the rape. “We are very aware of and sensitive to the concerns that arise in reporting about sexual assault,” she said. “This story is still developing and there is much to be learned about how something so horrific could have occurred.” We’re holding out for an entire public editor column on the matter, which clearly needs more addressing than it’s received so far.