June 3, 2011

Several New York Times staffers objected to Executive Editor Bill Keller’s recent controversial columns about the media, which he wrote knowing he would shortly step down from his leadership post, according to reports.

Keller wrote a magazine column in March questioning the value and journalistic practices of The Huffington Post specifically and aggregation in general. He later started a firestorm on Twitter by suggesting Twitter makes you stupid and followed it with a like-minded column.

“I think it’s fair to say that knowing that I was going to be announcing that I was moving on made me feel just a little bit liberated in what I said in the column,” Keller told Forbes‘ Jeff Bercovici. Some Times’ staffers, however, were not pleased.

Media writers and social media staffers complained to him that because he was writing as the top editor of the Times, his rants were making their jobs more difficult, reports Gabriel Sherman for New York Magazine:

“Keller’s columns infuriated some members of the newsroom, especially the Times’ media desk, who felt that the executive editor should be a kind of impartial honest broker. Times media editor Bruce Headlam and media columnist David Carr had an intervention with Keller to explain how his columns were hurting their ability to cover the industry. “I heard from Bruce, Dave, and Brian [Stelter] after the Arianna column had complicated their lives, which it was not intended to do,” Keller told me. “Even though I knew I would cause a certain amount of consternation in the building, I decided that was okay because it was worth having a conversation about this.”

“Then, last month, Keller wrote a column critical of Twitter, calling it “the enemy of contemplation.” Inside the Times, the column set off more alarms. Social-media staffers complained that Keller was signaling that he didn’t like Twitter even as the paper was trying to encourage reporters to embrace the new tool. Keller met with them to clarify his views, and as a concession agreed to convince Abramson to join Twitter. “She has set up a meeting with one of the social-media people to get Twitterized,” Keller told me.

Carr refutes the idea of an “intervention” in a tweet Thursday night:

“Did not “intervene” on @nytkeller http://bit.ly/mOemHW We had a good email chat. He runs the place, but always open to a conversation.”

Stelter tells Poynter via Twitter that he also refutes the “intervention” notion.

Sherman replied to me that his use of the word “intervention” was “a fair metaphor based on reporting and Keller’s reflections of conversations.”

Keller announced Thursday he would step down in September to become a full-time column writer, which would free him to opine without it reflecting on the broader Times news operation.

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Jeff Sonderman (jsonderman@poynter.org) is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in…
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