Sala de Prensa

115
Mayo 2009
Año XI, Vol. 5

WEB PARA PROFESIONALES DE LA COMUNICACION IBEROAMERICANOS

A R T I C U L O S

   


The Future of The New York Times

Bill Keller *

Ah, our existential question. Variations on this theme have outnumbered every other subject in the early e-mails from readers, as they did when my sidekick Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, occupied this dunk 'em seat a few weeks ago.

Editors, as you know, are responsible for the contents of The Times, not its business model. This is the only business I can think of where the people who make the product have traditionally been kept apart from the people who sell the product, to protect journalists from the undue influence of advertisers. For most of my life, that's been fine with me. Besides, the six weeks I spent long ago at the Wharton School did not, sadly, leave me with the business acumen of Warren Buffett or Steve Jobs, let alone equip me to see the future.

That said, like everyone else who labors in the journalism business, or just loves it, I worry about our future, discuss it constantly with colleagues, and participate in some aspects of charting it.

I'm an incurable optimist about the future of good journalism, and of The New York Times in particular. I expect people will still be applying for columnist jobs after I've gone. I've laid out my basic reasons for optimism on many occasions, and they still seem to hold water.

First, there is a diminishing supply of quality journalism, and a growing demand. By quality journalism I mean the kind that involves experienced reporters going places, bearing witness, digging into records, developing sources, checking and double-checking, backed by editors who try to enforce high standards. I mean journalism that, however imperfect, labors hard to be trustworthy, to supply you with the information you need to be an engaged citizen. The supply of this kind of journalism is declining because it is hard, expensive, sometimes dangerous work. The traditional practitioners of this craft — mainly newspapers — have been downsizing or declaring bankruptcy. The wonderful florescence of communication ignited by the Internet contains countless voices riffing on the journalism of others but not so many that do serious reporting of their own. Hence the dwindling supply. The best evidence of the soaring demand is the phenomenal traffic to the Web sites that do dependable news reporting — nearly 20 million unique monthly visitors to the site you are currently reading, and that number excludes the burgeoning international audience. The law of supply and demand suggests that the market will find a way to make the demand pay for the supply.

Second, The Times has some advantages that buy us time to make the transition successfully. Like everyone in the news business, we have been buffeted by forces, some of them cyclical (namely a global economic crisis that is a great story to cover but a depressing experience to live through) and some structural (the migration of audiences and advertising revenue to the Web). But we've fared better than our competitors. Fortunately, we have not gutted our newsgathering operation as so many other papers have, so that we can still deliver the breadth and depth of coverage readers expect, and we still have the human bandwidth to innovate. We moved earlier than others to embrace the Web as integral to our newsgathering operation, so our Web site is generally acknowledged to be among the very best news venues online, which helps explain the traffic numbers I cited above. We have a devoutly loyal print readership (median age, under 50). Circulation revenues have actually grown. We have a respected brand that attracts a premium national advertising clientele. And we're controlled by a family that prizes and defends what we do. We are not by any means immune to either the deep recession or the tumult in the media world, but we are secure enough to develop a thoughtful strategy for the long term.

And, third, I'm optimistic because there are a lot of smart, creative people in the company — and some really smart Times devotees outside the company — studying the business model for quality journalism and devising ways to change it. I think in the next year or two news organizations will have to make some major decisions about the role of print versus online, the balance of advertising revenue and subscription revenue, the extent to which they will chase a premium audience versus a mass audience, and so on.

Why not just cut the huge cost of newsprint and printing plants and live off our digital revenues? For one thing, a lot of people love the printed paper, and it more than pays its own way. For another, revenues from the Web are not yet sufficient to support a great newsgathering operation. Some of you may have noticed a recent report that The Los Angeles Times now generates enough online revenue to cover the payroll of the newsroom. I'm not privy to the internal numbers of The L.A. Times, but here are a few reasons to hold the celebration:

1. Payroll is, indeed, the biggest cost in a newsroom. But there are other major costs — in the newsroom budget, and in other budgets not attributed to the newsroom — that do not go away just because print goes away. There is the cost of equipment — computers, cameras, telephones, etc. There is the cost of travel. There is the cost of real estate; even a decentralized newsroom has to work somewhere. There is the cost of foreign bureaus, including the cost of security in places like Baghdad and Kabul. Beyond the newsroom itself, there is the cost of an ad sales department, the cost of lawyers who negotiate contracts and help keep reporters out of jail, the cost of the people who manage the money and file the tax returns and oversee compliance with the Securities and Exchange Commission, among other agencies. None of that disappears just because you stop publishing on newsprint.

2. To reach its current payroll, The L.A. Times had to eviscerate its reporting and editing staff. Not that many years ago, The L.A. Times had approximately as many journalists as The New York Times. It had a robust network of foreign bureaus, and a truly competitive Washington bureau, and a free-standing book review. It now has approximately half the journalists of its heyday, has subjected its foreign and Washington bureaus to wrenching cuts, folded its book review, and so on. I've read The Los Angeles Times since I was a college student in Southern California, I admire the editors who are trying to weather a period of ruthless ownership, and I still follow its coverage. But it is not what it once was.

3. Advertising on the Web, after growing strongly well into 2008, flatlined in the fourth quarter. Everyone assumes it will come back in some form when the recession ends, but in the short run at least the Web is not the sturdy lifeboat it seemed to be just six months ago.

There is no end of faith-based polemics on the subject of newspapers' survival. Print is dead! Online readers must pay for content! Online readers will never pay for content! Give newspapers endowments, like universities! We should be a little suspicious of ironclad certainty. The fact is, we don't really know yet how the behavior of readers and advertisers will evolve. We don't really know for sure how to separate the consequences of a calamitous economic crisis from the enduring changes in behavior provoked by new technologies. I think in the next year or two, we must examine all our options with an open mind, test those that are testable, and make some hard choices. My expectation (and I remind you of the disclaimers regarding my business acumen) is that for the foreseeable future our business will continue to be a mix of print and online journalism, with the growth online offsetting the (gradual, we hope) decline of print.

Should The Times Charge for Online News?

As most of you know, a few years ago The Times introduced a subscription service called Times Select. We put our columnists and our archives behind a wall and charged admission to anyone who was not a print subscriber. Times Select generated something like $10 million a year, which was real money, but in the end the company calculated that we'd be better off taking down the wall and letting the flood of additional visitors to the Web site attract advertising dollars. The lesson of that experiment, however, was not that readers won't pay for content. A lot of people in the news business, myself included, don't buy as a matter of theology that information "wants to be free." Really good information, often extracted from reluctant sources, truth-tested, organized and explained — that stuff wants to be paid for. So far, it gets paid for mainly by advertisers, but a lively, deadly serious discussion continues within The Times about ways to get consumers to pay for what we make. There are many variations on this theme, but here are the three that tend to top most study lists:

— A subscription model. Times Select was not the answer, but it's possible we just put the wrong stuff behind the wall. Maybe we should put it all there, or some different slice of it. The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times both have paid tiers in their Web sites. Rupert Murdoch, when he bought The Journal, talked about making the Web site free, but then he decided it made better sense to continue charging. Maybe the Journal/FT model is special, because its audience is disproportionately business executives who charge the cost to their expense accounts rather than ordinary readers spending their own money. The bigger argument against subscriptions is that they limit traffic, which limits ad revenues. Paid content tends not to show up in Web searches, which makes it less appealing to advertisers. They don't open their books, but if they did I'll bet you'd see that The Journal's Web site generates far less revenue than ours. But if Web advertising takes a long dive — or if some clever engineer figures out how to decouple a paid Web site from the search function — a subscription model might be worth a closer look.

— A micro-payment model. The idea is that readers may not pay a subscription fee for a new Web site, but they might pay a few pennies every time they click on a page, if it was simple and frictionless. In the heyday of Napster and other steal-this-music Web sites, a lot of people believed that consumers would simply not pay money to download music. Enter Apple and iTunes.

— New reading devices. The Times currently makes a modest amount of money selling a downloadable newspaper for Kindle users and for subscribers to a service called Times Reader. These services allow readers to load the entire paper into a portable device. In the case of Times Reader, the download has been especially designed to include full-color pictures, graphics and so forth. So some people are paying for The Times online. Just not enough of them. So far.

The discussion of charging readers for Times content stirred up quite a reaction, mostly from people who agree that what we do is too valuable to be given away, some of it from people convinced they know how a pay model would work. We've gotten more than a few offers from readers who want to pay voluntarily.

On the cover of Time magazine today Walter Isaacson, the magazine's former managing editor, head of the Aspen Institute and Stakhanovite author of best-selling biographies, sees an annoying paradox of our Web site's dependence on advertising alone: The "bulk of the ad dollars has ended up flowing to groups that did not actually create much content but instead piggybacked on it: search engines, portals and some aggregators," he writes. "Another group that benefits from free journalism is Internet service providers. They get to charge customers $20 to $30 a month for access to the Web's trove of free content and services. As a result, it is not in their interest to facilitate easy ways for media creators to charge for their content. Thus we have a world in which phone companies have accustomed kids to paying up to 20¢ when they send a text message but it seems technologically and psychologically impossible to get people to pay 10¢ for a magazine, newspaper or newscast."

Walter, who pioneered the free model when he created Pathfinder in 1994, now argues for a micropayment system -- a news variation on iTunes. I found some things to quarrel with in his essay. He's a little credulous about The Wall Street Journal's online subscription model, which he seems to see as a stroke of modern business acumen. I suspect Rupert Murdoch's decision not to make the Web site free when he bought The Journal had a lot to do with another reality: The Journal's online subscriptions are bundled with print subscriptions, and freeing his online content would have hurt his print circulation, and thus potentially his print advertising revenue. Neither Mr. Murdoch's News Corp. nor The New York Times publishes details of their Web economics, but The Journal lags far behind The Times in Web traffic, and I'd be willing to bet it also lags behind in total revenues.

More important, Walter doesn't really grapple with the main puzzle of a pay model: how to keep it from stifling traffic, especially search-driven traffic, so much that online advertisers go away. I'm not saying that problem is insoluble. Just that, as far as I know, no one has solved it yet.

By the way, I enjoyed Time's cover photograph of a fish wrapped in The New York Times, a reminder of the many eco-friendly reuses of the newspaper that the Web has yet to match. Papier-mâché. Pirate hats. Gift wrap. Have you ever tried to line a bird cage with Google News? Of course, the cover could have depicted a fish wrapped in Time magazine. Time used to charge for its Web sites (after Walter left) but it was a disaster, and they stopped charging. You can read Walter's essay for free at Time.com and save $4.95.

We had a lunch with a group of reporters and editors this week, where conversation ranged across various pay options. In that group, the favorite idea — especially among younger and more Web-centic staffers — was a voluntary pay model. Imagine a digital version of the NPR membership drive, which allows you to be a reader for free, but invites you to be a member/sponsor for a modest fee. (Sorry you missed the lunch, Ms. Hammond. You'd have felt right at home.)

All of these are welcome contributions to a discussion that, at The Times, is already in high gear. I'll make sure that whatever fresh ideas arrive through this channel get circulated.

What About the Not-for-Profit Model?

When you think about it, an awful lot of the best journalism is subsidized in one way or another. BBC gets government support. NPR raises foundation money and reader donations. The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are struggling with severe revenue declines; neither paper admits to losing money, but if they have gone into the red their losses are offset by other ventures of their parent corporations. (The Journal is propped up by News Corp's TV assets, such as Fox, and The Post is underwritten by the company's profitable Kaplan test prep business.) The Guardian in London belongs to a trust, and The St. Petersburg Times in Florida is owned by a journalism school — both arrangements devised by wealthy founders who wanted the publications managed for public good rather than private profit.

A commentary on The Times Op-Ed page last week proposed creation of a New York Times endowment, like a university; that provoked an interesting array of letters. In my view, we should give serious study to anything that holds promise, but there are serious downsides to a not-for-profit model. For one thing, charity, however well intentioned, can come with strings attached. For another, endowments are no insulation against economic hard times. (Just ask universities.) And competition is, mostly, good for journalism. True, the scramble for readers' attention may contribute to tabloid sensationalism and press-pack feeding frenzies. But it also serves as a goad to aggressive reporting — and a check on the accuracy of our facts and analysis.

Maybe now we can turn our gaze to other navels for a while?

Are Anonymous Sources Really Necessary?

Anonymity is both a vital tool and a serious hazard for journalists. Used carefully, an agreement to withhold a source's name allows us to extract valuable information from people who would otherwise fear reprisals from an employer, legal jeopardy or other consequences. In extreme cases — reporting from Zimbabwe comes to mind — to name a source may be to mark that person for arrest or death. Much of what the public learns about official malfeasance, about corruption, about threats to our security or civil liberties, or, less dramatically, about how powerful institutions in our society actually work, starts with sources who will not talk without a measure of protection.

At the same time, casual reliance on unnamed sources corrodes our credibility and, in cases that are rare but not rare enough, may abet journalistic malpractice.

The Times policy, which was significantly tightened after a reporter was caught fabricating stories in 2003, is as follows: First, reporters should press sources to go on the record. The best reporters manage to write some extremely sensitive stories with few or no anonymous sources — see, for example, David Barstow's expose of the Pentagon's program to co-opt "military analysts" who appear as impartial commentators on TV, or Chris Chivers's account of alleged torture in Chechnya. Second, an editor should know the identity of any unnamed source, and should push for attribution (or eliminate the material from the story) if anonymity is not justified. Third, where anonymous sources are used editors are expected to assure that reporters reveal as much as we can about the veracity of the source (that is, how do they know what they're telling us?) and any potential bias (does the source have an ax to grind?)

Like any lazy practice, anonymous sourcing tends to proliferate if it is not watched. So thanks for a timely shot across the bow.

I would guess that much of the reader wariness of anonymous sources derives from a suspicion that the paper is being used for some undisclosed agenda. When we need to protect a source’s identity, we can alleviate this risk to some extent by making every effort to describe a source’s credibility (is the information first-hand? second-hand?) and motivation.

On the issue of “tainted sources” — sources who use the cloak of anonymity to lie or mislead — I think most reporters can imagine a situation where they would out a source who fed us bogus information for some malign purpose. A politician knowingly disseminating damaging misinformation about a rival has violated the agreement that protected his identity, and, incidentally, revealed something about his own integrity that voters are probably entitled to know.

But I also think most reporters would want this considered on a case-by-case basis. David Barstow, one of our best and most thoughtful investigative reporters, put it this way:

My problem with this whole line of questions is that it assumes a sort of black and white world of truth and lies where sources are either acting with pure motive or evil intent. Far, far more frequently, reality lies somewhere in the murky middle. Scratch deep enough, and you generally find a combination of motives, some noble and some petty.

Their information tends to come in all kinds of forms — documents, rumor-passing, leads to other sources, recollections of events both distant and near. Some of what they say can be true, some false, some more a matter of interpretation. Some false information is offered innocently. Some true information is offered selectively.

Our job, I think, is, first, to hear the information. Get it, then evaluate with care. Accept that people and motives are messy. Expect that some portion of what you get from anonymous sources is going to be wrong, or at least not completely right. Most important, make damn sure that what we publish stands on more than just one anonymous source.

Ideally, as Mr. Barstow has often done, by getting sources on the record.

Here’s a real-world case study for you. After Caroline Kennedy withdrew from the competition to fill the vacant New York Senate seat, someone we identified as “a person close to the governor” told reporters that Governor Paterson had already disqualified her, in part because of tax and nanny problems. This was untrue. In this case, The Times and other publications have not identified the source, because it seems likely that the source believed the information to be true. We have, however, traced the information back to the governor’s chief communications strategist, a consultant named Judith A. Smith. We also disclosed that shortly before orchestrating the whisper campaign, the consultant met with the governor. Without outing the original source, who may well have been simply a conduit, we have placed responsibility for the lie very close to the governor.

A variation on the theme of being “used” is the case where an official, speaking not for attribution, floats a trial balloon. The story will say something like “the president is considering” or “aides have recommended” a particular course of action. And it is true: the president is considering it, and part of his consideration is to float the idea in the media and see how much opposition it generates. In a case like that, I think the role of the press is harmless or benign, but we must try to let the reader in on the game — that is, let the reader know that this is not a great scoop about an impending action, but a possible option being tested through a leak.

On the question of “experts,” etc., I think this is shorthand that has risks and benefits. The main practical benefit is that you do not force readers to endure a litany of witnesses saying the same thing, one after another. News stories are plenty long enough as it is, and a conscientious reporter will not generalize about “experts” unless there is a pretty substantial consensus. The risk is that some readers will suspect that the reporter got a skewed sample, or, worse, picked experts who agreed with the reporter.

The idea of identifying experts on the website — essentially, online footnotes — is clever, but a lot of work for reporters and editors who are already working their hearts out. Short of that, I think it’s valuable to be precise (don’t say “experts” if you really mean “some experts,” or “Freudian experts,” or “conservative experts”), to seek out and include dissenting views when there is no consensus, and to note the expertise and possible biases of experts you do quote by name.

Regrets of an Executive Editor?

I assume, dear reader, that you are not referring to the nights I got home too late to read to my kids, or the two books I didn't manage to finish writing, or the fact that I dropped piano in third grade. And it's too easy (though not untrue) to say I regret not having enough money to hire more of the terrific journalists who are seeking rescue from other, foundering publications.

Journalists are in the second-guessing business and, whether or not we always admit it, we second-guess ourselves all the time. Is there another phone call I should have made on that story? Should I trust that source? Is that the right lead, the right headline, the right picture? Did that story deserve to be on the front page? Was the competition's version better?

On Page 4 every day we publish some of our regrets in the form of corrections and editor's notes. Every misspelled word, every unchecked fact, every time we failed to give someone a fair shake makes me wince. When we blunder in a bigger way — some of the credulous stories The Times published en route to the war in Iraq, for example — I ache for our precious credibility. Even worse is when we get it wrong and then insist on sticking to our guns. (I waited a year after getting this job before I wrote a mea culpa about some of our pre-war W.M.D. coverage.) I take some consolation in the fact that we try, as a rule, to own up to our mistakes and even learn from them. There is no worse feeling in this business, however, than the feeling that you have let readers down.

So, yes, regrets, I've had way more than a few. Thankfully they are outweighed by the thrill I get working with some of the most talented, conscientious, honorable people in journalism.

About the Public Editor

A number of news organizations have ombudsmen, independent representatives of the readers, who handle complaints and critique journalistic performance, often in the pages of the paper. The Times had long resisted the idea, largely because we thought it was our job as editors to represent the interests of readers. But after the famous Voldemort scandal of 2003, we realized we could use additional safeguards for our credibility. We created the job of "standards editor," to make sure our policies on accuracy and fair play were rigorous and to help enforce them, and a "public editor" to serve as a kind of independent auditor, with freedom to air his judgments on the Web site and in the Sunday paper. (We also tightened our policies on corrections, anonymous sources and other issues important to our credibility.) The publisher and I hire the public editor for a fixed term. We recently announced that we were giving the current public editor a one-time-only one-year extension. I have long felt the two-year term was too short for someone who came to this complicated place from outside; it takes a while to learn your way around, and by the time one public editor has figured out the job I'm scouring the landscape for a successor.

Clark Hoyt is the third journalist to hold this largely thankless job — an assignment that makes you few friends in the newsroom, and inevitably leaves some readers dissatisfied. I find him very thorough in his reporting, fair-minded in his analysis, and unafraid of hard subjects. I think he does the job as well as it can be done. Sometimes I agree with his conclusions, even if he is calling us on the carpet. And yes, I sometimes disagree with him. He's not my commanding officer, or the Supreme Court. He's an independent critic, an outsider with a hall pass and a platform. He is entitled to respect, but I don't think he expects conformity. I hope Mr. Hoyt will stay put until his term expires in June 2010, and I fully support his independence.

Whether we have a fourth and a fifth and a sixth public editor is a question we'll answer when the time comes. The idea of a public editor has never won universal acclamation in the newsroom. There are still some who believe we have enough independent checks in the legion of self-appointed press critics without paying one of our own. There are still some who think a public editor does more to undermine our credibility, by poking small holes in important stories, than to shore it up.

The other day in a meeting of senior editors I asked for an informal show of hands on the question of continuing the role of public editor. The room was about evenly divided. I'm keeping my own hand down until 2010.

What a Day in the Executive Editor is Like?

Really? You'd be interested in that? Well, I think my life is pretty much what you would imagine it to be.

I wake up most mornings to the telephone, invariably some world leader or international celebrity seeking my counsel. Lately it's been a lot of President Obama — again with the damn puppy? — but sometimes it's Richard Holbrooke to pick my brain about Afghanistan, or Bruce Springsteen asking if it isn't time for another Arts and Leisure cover story about Bruce Springsteen. The valet brings breakfast with the handful of newspapers that have not gone out of business. In the limo on the way to the office, I help Warren Buffett sort out his portfolio and give trading advice to George Steinbrenner, not that he ever listens.

At the office, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and I have our morning conference call with Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong-il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — plus Fidel Castro when he's compos mentis. Dictating the world's agenda entails a lot of conference calls. I've been encouraging the cabal to save some money by using iChat, but first we have to persuade Putin to wear a shirt.

Lunch at the Four Seasons is always a high point. Today it's my weekly tête-à-tête with Bill O'Reilly. He's really not the Neanderthal blowhard he plays on TV. He's totally in on the joke. After a couple of cosmopolitans, he does a wicked impression of Ann Coulter. We usually spend the lunch working up outlandish things he can say about The New York Times and making fun of Fox executives. (Once Rupert Murdoch showed up for a lunch date, and O'Reilly had to hide under the table for half an hour.)

I spend most of the afternoon writing all the stories for the front page. (You knew those were all pseudonyms, right?) I write Tom Friedman's column, too, but, I swear, Bill Kristol wrote all his own stuff.

By then it's time for drinks and dinner. If you're reading this, Julian, I think the duck tonight. I had the foie gras for lunch. And no time for dessert. The Secretary of State is coming by to give me a back rub.

Aabout Journalism as a Career

Anyone who has 35 high school sophomores reading newspapers and thinking about journalism is a hero in my book.

Many of you wonder about journalism as a career — mine, or in general. Like you, I first got hooked on journalism in high school. Working for the school paper gave me a chance to stand a little apart from my teachers and fellow students, ask impertinent questions, and occasionally get away with writing something that tweaked the establishment. (Did I mention this was a Catholic boys school in the 1960s?) I took journalism more seriously at my college paper, where I was lucky to encounter a few student editors who understood that the most important thing (and the hardest thing) is not the writing or the sense of independence. Both of those matter a lot, but the most important thing is the discipline.

Discipline is the prerequisite for accuracy and fairness, which add up to integrity. To make sure you've got the story right, you learn to report against your own story. Check your facts, not only with the people who are likely to agree with the premise of your story but also with the people who are likely to disagree. If you're unclear about what someone meant, never be too timid to call back and clarify. To make sure you've got it fair, you learn to set aside your personal opinions, the way a judge does in a courtroom. If you're writing a profile, imagine the person you're writing about is you. Discipline applies to the writing, too. Get to the point. Be as clear as possible. Cut out anything that doesn't serve the piece. Write every day. Rewrite. Then rewrite again if you have time.

People are drawn to journalism for many different reasons. Some simply love to write. Some are curious. Some want to change the world. Some seek adventure. Some like seeing their names in print. Some want to witness history. I plead at least a little guilty to all of those motives, but what has always appealed to me most was puzzling things out — taking a complicated situation, investigating and studying it until I thought I understood it, then explaining it as best I could. If I hadn't been a journalist, I'd probably have been a teacher.

It may be true that the editor is the most important part of a newspaper, but when I was young I sure didn't think so. In fact, I spent 25 years as a reporter, swearing I would never become an editor. Sitting at a desk, watching other people go out and find the story, and then fussing with other people's words — I just didn't get the appeal of that. Then as I was finishing up a reporting assignment in South Africa in 1995, my boss at The Times asked if I wanted to be the next foreign editor. It's one thing to say you don't want to be an editor. It's another thing to be offered a chance to lead the most impressive team of foreign correspondents in the world. It turned out that editing was a variation on the figuring-things-out function that most appealed to me about journalism. Except that as an editor I can deploy a staff of reporters and, working with them, try to figure out a whole lot of things at once. These days, besides trying to figure out an assortment of world conflicts, a global economic meltdown and a new administration in Washington, we're trying to figure out the future of our own business.

Yes, the job comes with stress. Some of it is just the hard labor of making sure we've got stories right — often on a tight deadline. Some of it comes from competition. Some of it comes from people who don't like what we write. Some of it comes from the pressure of a sour economy. And then there are stresses you can't imagine when you sign up to be a newsman. People who work for you get sick, or their spouses or children or parents get sick. Reporters working in dangerous places get arrested, or kidnapped, or even killed. (I've experienced all three.) The way you get through it without a broken spirit or a hardened heart is by surrounding yourself with good people and leaning on them. Thanks to them, most of the time this job feels pretty great.

Choosing my favorite moment in journalism would be like picking a favorite among my children. I can't pick one favorite. I was lucky enough to cover the end of communism in the Soviet Union and the end of apartheid in South Africa. How's that for starters?

Some of you asked about episodes of gross journalistic malpractice: Jayson Blair, who fabricated a number of stories at The Times before he was caught, and Stephen Glass, a serial makeup artist at The New Republic. While newspapers can and must take strong precautions, there is no absolute fail-safe device against a rogue reporter. You can't eavesdrop on every phone conversation, or send babysitters with reporters when they go on assignment. Here are a few things you can do — all of which we do with greater rigor at The Times since the embarrassment of the Jayson Blair case: Take the time to carefully vet people you hire. Train and retrain your staff in the techniques of fact-checking. Monitor corrections, and home in on people whose work has to be corrected too often. Assure that when reporters submit work based on anonymous sources an editor knows the identities of the sources. Assign people to monitor the integrity of our journalism (at The Times, we have a standards editor and a public editor, discussed above.) Create a culture in which our credibility is valued above all, and someone who is suspicious of a story feels a responsibility to mention it. Own up to your errors. (The most thorough examination of Jayson Blair's fraud was in The New York Times.)

Maintaining a high level of accuracy and fairness is harder these days. Budget cuts don't help, but a more important factor is the growing pressure to get information posted quickly on our Web site. It's one of the biggest challenges we wrestle with — how to satisfy the constant appetite of the Web for news right now without sacrificing the careful reporting, fact-checking and reflection that readers expect in a Times story. We have tried hard to inculcate an ethic that prizes being right over being first, and I think we've been pretty successful at being nimble on the Web without being sloppy. But it requires constant vigilance.

About colleges that create possibilities for future journalists — there are many, many paths to journalism, and they are not by any means limited to studying journalism as an academic subject. The essential skills of journalism — gathering and checking information, organizing it in ways that make sense, putting it in context, writing it clearly and fairly — are applicable to many fields, many careers. A good, rounded liberal arts education is a fine launching pad into a journalism life. So is concentrated study in any field that excites you: science, history, literature, law, philosophy, computer science. If you think journalism is your passion, it's not necessary to pick a school with a strong classroom program in journalism. You may find it more rewarding to pick a school with a good newspaper. Check the newspaper Web sites of schools that interest you, or have someone send you a few issues of the college paper. When you do a campus visit, drop by the newspaper office.

If you want to pursue advanced or specialized studies in journalism, there is a lot of ferment in the field. Schools as disparate as Columbia, Stanford, the City University of New York and Texas Christian University have been rethinking and replenishing their journalism curricula — and those are just a few that have come to my attention. Go forth and report!

What to do when a reporter has nothing to write about? Tell him or her to get the heck out of the office. Walk the halls. Wander the campus — and beyond. Call up a member of the school board and ask what's on his or her mind. Keep your eyes open. Ask dumb questions — then ask smarter questions. Troll the city Web site. There are many people, and every one of them knows a story, if you can just get it out of him or her.

The question that made my heart sink a little was: "How do I know if I should give up all my other dreams for something as unstable as writing?" I don't know your other dreams, but if journalism is one of them it does not have to exclude the others. Journalism is compatible with many lines of work and many other pursuits. I know journalists who are also lawyers, concert-level pianists, poets, novelists and medical doctors. I know people who have jumped from careers in journalism to careers in teaching, diplomacy and investment banking. (Speaking of unstable career choices!) If you know how to gather information, test it, organize it and interpret it, if you can share it in language that is clear — maybe even beautiful at times — if you can do that, the world has a place for you even if, God forbid, newspapers all die.

And, finally, no, I do not have a parking space. Like most people in New York City, I take the subway to work.

When Will Web Site Be Redesigned?

Jim Roberts, the associate managing editor who oversees the digital news operation, reminds me that we launched the most recent redesign of the site in April 2006. In newspaper terms, that's still pretty fresh, but on the Web, where things seem to change at the speed of light, three years can seem like an eternity.

The changes since then have been incremental. But there have been a lot of them, and taken together, the home page (not to mention the site as a whole ) is quite different from what we were offering at this time in 2006. As I write this, in fact, there's a piece of video embedded at the top of the home page (on the Nazi story), and we've frequently presented live video and animated, interactive graphics on the home page. On inauguration day, we heard from many readers that our live feed of President Obama's swearing-in ceremony was better and more reliable than the major cable TV Web sites. During the campaign season, we often presented maps with constant streams of data being fed into them. By the way, some of the creative minds behind our interactive innovation answered questions in this spot recently. If you want to know why the supposedly gray lady is so much more spry than other news Web sites, check it out. Or read the adoring profile of them in New York Magazine, which hails our Web site as "not a cheap imitation of a print newspaper but a vastly superior version of one. It may be the only happy story in journalism." Well, not the only one. But a happy story.

While I'm kvelling (as the nuns at St. Matthew's didn't teach me to say) let me brag on a few other things. Users can now hit the Times Extra button at the top of the page and be presented with packages of links to articles and blog posts in different publications on subjects related to the main news stories of the day. And deeper into the site, we've redesigned many of our photo slide show presentations and now offer a wide array of interactive multimedia like the view of President Obama's inauguration.

We have spent some time discussing a redesign; we'd be foolish not to take a critical look at what works and what doesn't. But altogether, we feel that the site is hugely successful. Twenty-million unique users is nearly double what we could claim at the time of the redesign. Should we fix something that isn't obviously broken? In addition, a top-to-bottom redesign is a hugely complicated and time-consuming undertaking.

All that said, we are always looking for ways of improving the presentation of our report and we will soon roll out some changes to our article pages, which we hope will allow users to better connect with audio, video and other material related to the stories they read.

About the International Herald Tribune — which we now think of as our global editions, published in Paris and Hong Kong — this spring NYTimes.com and IHT.com will be conjoined. You don't want to know (and I don't understand it well enough to tell you) the technological and design challenges this project presented, but the result is this: The Web site will offer all users, here and abroad, the choice of two home pages, the existing one, tailored more for a domestic audience, and the global home page, which focuses more on international news and features and incorporates unique content from the I.H.T. There will also be optional global pages on business, arts, sports, style and opinion. You'll be able to toggle back and forth if you want. Watch for that at the end of March.


* Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, answered questions from readers Feb. 2-6, 2009. Before becoming executive editor in July 2003, Mr. Keller had been an Op-Ed columnist and senior writer for The New York Times Magazine as well as other areas of the newspaper since September 2001. He served as managing editor from 1997 to September 2001 after having been the newspaper's foreign editor from June 1995 to 1997. He was the chief of The Times bureau in Johannesburg from April 1992 until May 1995. From December 1986 to October 1991, Mr. Keller was a Times correspondent in Moscow, serving as bureau chief during his last three years there. In 1989, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Soviet Union. Mr. Keller joined The New York Times in 1984 as a domestic correspondent based in the Washington bureau. Before coming to The Times, Mr. Keller was a reporter for The Dallas Times Herald, the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report in Washington and The Portland Oregonian. Mr. Keller graduated from Pomona College with a B.A. degree in 1970 and is a member of the college's board of trustees.


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