New York Times
executive editor Bill Keller
gave a speech in London last night, delivering The Guardian
's annual Hugo Young
memorial lecture in honor of the respected author and Guardain columnist
who died in 2003. The Guardian
headlines the speech, which it reproduces in full, "The Newspaper in the Days of Digital Anarchy" but as it turns out, Keller was less interested in enumerating the assaults on the press by the Internet than in those inflicted on the press by the Bush administration (having had some personal experience
with such things). And, with 8,260-words
to play with in his speech, he clearly felt no need to hold back. Of course, the bloggers get it, too, but that's only to be expected. Some highlights:
"The Bush administration believes that information is power, and that like most other forms of power it is not to be shared with those the regime does not trust. It most decidedly does not trust us."
"The government has plenty of weapons at hand after publication, and in [the domestic wiretapping case] they were fully deployed, beginning with attacks on our integrity and patriotism, continuing with an FBI leak investigation and the convening of a grand jury to consider criminal charges, and ending, well, we know not where, since the official pursuit continues, and it continues for the most part in secret."
"Besides a decided preference for operating in the dark, the Bush administration has contributed to the woes of the press in another way. It has helped create a toxic climate for the press by inflaming the polarisation of our public."
"Honourable people may disagree with any of our choices - a decision to publish or a decision not to publish. But making those decisions is the responsibility that falls to editors, a corollary to the great gift of our independence...That is what sets us apart from the kind of deferential, mouthpiece journalism common to countries with one-party governments."
- "The current administration has been more secretive, more mistrustful of an inquisitive press, than any since the Nixon administration....The war in Iraq alone is a case study of the administration's determination to dominate the flow of information - from the original cherry-picking of intelligence, to the deliberate refusal to hear senior military officers when they warned of the potential for chaos, to the continually inflated claims about the progress in building up an indigenous Iraqi army."
There's more — 8,260 words! — but here are a few more nuggets:
Keller once received a postcard from a nun reading: "Obey your holy priests and bishops or risk excommunication, anathema and eternal hellfire!!" (Sounds like something he might have received from Melanie Morgan.)
O Newspapers! My Newspapers! "The civic labour performed by journalists on the ground cannot be replicated by legions of bloggers sitting hunched over their computer screens. It cannot be replaced by a search engine. It cannot be supplanted by shouting heads or satirical television shows."
- Howell Raines in 50 words or less: "In 2001 I was the dark horse in a race for the top job at The New York Times. I lost to a candidate with more experience and charisma, and column-writing became my blissful exile for 20 months — until the other guy's charisma ran out."
What is absent from the vast array of new media outlets is, first and foremost, the great engine of newsgathering - the people who witness events, ferret out information, supply context and explanation.
"A journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, named Philip Meyer, has done some studies about the decline of American newspaper readership. His extrapolation of the data shows that, if newspapers do nothing to change their ways, they will lose their very last reader in the year 2044. In October, if you want to mark your calendars."
Don't worry, by the end of the speech he saves journalism.
Not dead yet: the newspaper in the days of digital anarchy [Guardian UK]
*Yes, that is Bill Keller Simpsonized. Best we could do.