ink-stained wretches

Bill Keller: Yah-Huh, Lots of People Buy the Times!

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller publicly responded to Vanity Fair’s attack write-around about publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. In a letter to the magazine (on which he awesomely cc’ed Romenesko), Keller defends his boss and the paper they are both fighting to save:

If you strip away the bombast, the recycled anecdotes and the mistakes an elementary fact-checking should have caught (“1300 reporters” is off by about 800), you are left with Mark Bowden’s attempt at an original thesis. His thesis is this: Arthur Sulzberger believes that “journalism pays.” He actually believes that its value is not only civic, but commercial. Ho, ho. How naive of him. Journalism doesn’t pay.

Last year readers paid The New York Times more than $600 million to buy our newspaper. In a world of declining everything, our circulation revenue has gone up. That’s people paying good money for good journalism. And it buys us time to answer the existential question of our business, which is how we assure that journalism continues to pay. I’ll bet on Arthur Sulzberger finding the answer to that question before Mark Bowden does.

See, we were with Keller until the end, there. The article was bombastic, and contained about 7,000 too many words about what Mark Bowden thought about Arthur Sulzberger, rather than reporting that taught us something we didn’t already know. But Bowden isn’t trying to find out new ways to make journalism pay: He already makes lots of money writing books that become movies and getting checks from Vanity Fair. It’s up to people like Sulzberger to solve these problems, and clawing at naysayers won’t do any good. Keller should have stuck to the point about how their circulation revenue is going up — that’s reporting that teaches us something we didn’t already know.

Poynter Forums [Romenesko]

Bill Keller: Yah-Huh, Lots of People Buy the Times!