The New York Times’ Bill Keller on the Evolution of NY News Media

February 12, 2014 at 1:32 pm

The death of big media has been widely reported, but if you live in New York City, you know that big media –  and small – are thriving. Daily newspapers, network TV, web start-ups and web powerhouses – even late night and comedy TV – they’re all here.

National audiences will begin seeing the Tonight Show airing from New York when Jimmy Fallon takes over on February 17th and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently stopped by the west side studios of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart for an interview.

Reporter and anchor Jack Ford sits down with Bill Keller of The New York Times.

New York Times columnist and former executive editor Bill Keller – who recently announced that he will be leaving The New York Times in March to become the editor in chief of the Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism start-up focused on the American criminal justice systemsaid that the rumor of the demise of big media is exaggerated or misunderstood. Prefaced with the caveat that “Anybody who speaks with a sense of certainty about what’s going on in the media business should be regarded as either dubious or insane,” because, “It is in a state of sort of rolling chaos,” Keller said that newspapers may be more of a cause of the demise of newspapers than digital media.

“If newspapers are dying, the first culprit was newspaper companies shutting them down because they didn’t want the competition,” he said, citing the example of the Belo Corporation buying the Dallas Times Herald and shutting it down the next day to eliminate competition for its paper, the Dallas Morning News.

Keller said that all media are suffering from a dispersion of both audience and  advertising, and that many outlets are trying to find new ways to survive. “We’re seeing a lot of frantic adaptation and I think some of it will be successful…The future of media consists of people who adapt and start-ups,” he said.

Keller also touched on why New York City seems to be a hotspot for news and media start-ups, saying, “Media ventures are starting in New York for the same reason we all love to live in New York, there’s just a lot happening.”

The New York Times may be a media stronghold both in the city and nationally – “conservative with a small c” – but Keller said that one of the biggest changes that has happened there during his long tenure is more akin to the burgeoning start-ups of today. “The Times has turned into a laboratory,” he said. “You walk through the newsroom now and there’s a computer assisted reporting desk, there’s an interactive graphics desk, and there are all these people designing new ways to present the news.”

As for the future, Keller said that the biggest challenge will be figuring out how to fund quality news, noting that things like travel expenses and health insurance for war correspondents have to be paid for whether the resulting content appears in print or only online. “I think you will probably see an increase in news organizations that are funded by philanthropies…partly because the advertising dollars and the subscription dollars are hard to come by,” he said.


Bill Keller is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times and writes for The New York Times Magazine. His column appears on Mondays.

From July 2003 until September 2011, he was the executive editor of The Times, presiding over the newsroom during a time of journalistic distinction, economic challenge, and transformation. During his eight years in that role, The Times sustained and built its formidable newsgathering staff, winning 18 Pulitzer Prizes, and expanded its audience by mastering the journalistic potential of the Internet. The newsroom also participated in the creation of a digital subscription plan to help secure the company’s economic future.

For Bill Keller’s full bio click here.