Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Keller on Cutbacks, 'L.A. Times' and 'Panic' in the Industry

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Keller on Cutbacks, 'L.A. Times' and 'Panic' in the Industry

Article excerpt

The PBS "Frontline" program opened its four-part media probe this week with a look at the Plame affair and related Iraq war issues. For the series, the producers interviewed dozens of well-known journalists and, in the usual fashion, their comments will appear in snippets. But PBS.org has also posted the transcripts of more than 50 interviews at its site and E&P has been presenting excerpts, yesterday featuring Bob Woodward, Judith Miller, Carl Bernstein and others.

Now here is Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, talking about the recent cutbacks and uproar over Dean Baquet's comments and Los Angeles Times exit, along with a wider look at industry trends in this regard. The session took place before the recent Times' hiring of Baquet as Washington bureau chief.

The interviewer is Lowell Bergman.

***

Q: As a competitor of yours, what can you say about the Los Angeles Times situation?

KELLER: Well, I've got to qualify everything I say by saying I've never worked at the L.A. Times, ... so this is the view from afar. I do appreciate, as somebody who grew up in California, that the L.A. Times has a kind of strategic problem that's different from a lot of other places: L.A. is so sprawling and spread out, and most of the people who live in their circulation area don't think of themselves as living in L.A. There's even a kind of antipathy towards the name in the region, let alone in Northern California. So that creates all kinds of difficulties.

But the idea that the L.A. Times is going to say to readers, "Buy the L.A. Times, we will tell you what's going on with the traffic and the schools and the cops and the local stuff, and if you want to know what's going on in Iraq, go buy The New York Times," that doesn't sound like a terribly sound business approach either. And if I were a Los Angelino, I would be a little insulted by that. Why are the two mutually exclusive? ...

Q. What the current publisher, Mr. [David] Hiller, said to us was that The New York Times' model is not a model for the L.A. Times. The New York Times has, as he put it, given up its local circulation, which has gone way down, for a national circulation, and the L.A. Times would die if that happens.

KELLER: I don't think we've given up our local circulation, but we've rebalanced our circulation so that it's more than half of it is national, that's true. I don't know what the model is for L.A., and I'm not going to presume to say that The New York Times is the model for the Los Angeles Times; I'm not sure that the Chicago Tribune is the model for the Los Angeles Times, either.

But it just seems common sense to me that you can satisfy people's need to know what's going on in their own community and tell them what's going on in Washington and in Baghdad. It wasn't all that long ago that a lot of newspapers did that: They performed strong local journalism, but they sent a correspondent to the war in Vietnam, they had a guy in Jerusalem or a guy in London. ... It's not a terribly novel idea, that you can try to serve both. ...

Q. What do you think of Dean Baquet and the fact that this whole controversy [about Baquet refusing to make staff cuts ordered by L.A. Times' parent the Tribune Company] broke out into public view and in the pages of the L.A. Times itself?

KELLER: I should say that Dean's a friend; he's somebody I've worked with in the past, and somebody I admire immensely as a journalist. Again, I don't know whether the right size of the Los Angeles Times newsroom is 1,200 journalists or 900 journalists or 800 journalists or what it is, but I know in my gut that he picked the right fight, and the fight is over having journalists. If you're going to do good journalism, you have to have good journalists, whether you're going to do it on the Web or in print. ...

Q. But now you're getting applications from the L.A. …

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