Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, stunned the media world yesterday by stepping down from the job he has held since 2003.
The announcement wasn’t expected since Keller isn’t at the paper’s retirement age yet and in a recent Esquire interview gave no indication that he was thinking about leaving his job in the near future:
Scott Raab: Do you see yourself doing this job in five or ten years?
Bill Keller: Obviously, I serve at the pleasure of the publisher [Arthur Sulzberger Jr.], so he gets a say in how long I stay.
SR: He adores you, no?
BK: Arthur and I have, I think, developed a great deal of trust and mutual respect. When I started out in this job, we didn’t know each other all that well. Which is probably why he didn’t pick me the first time around. As time goes on and I look around the country, I can’t see another publisher on earth that I’d trade him for.
Even though the Times’ official statement said that Sulzberger accepted the resignation with “mixed emotions,” it looks like he helped push Keller out the door.
Earlier this year Keller got into a very public spat with Arianna Huffington when he attacked news aggregation websites like her Huffington Post as not providing original news, as the Times does.
What really made Keller mad was that Huffington was able to coax $315 million out of AOL to buy her company while he battled declining advertising and subscriber revenues.
Keller should have known better than to pick a fight with Huffington and others who have succeeded in the social media sphere. But like a cranky old man he just couldn’t leave it alone.
Just a few weeks ago he tweeted that “Twitter makes you stupid,” which set off yet another round of criticism that he didn’t understand social media at all and how it would impact the future of journalism.
Rather than based on any desire to write more articles for the Times, it is far more likely that Sulzberger had tired of Keller embarrassing himself and the paper with his tirades and that it would be best if he takes on a reduced role at the paper.
The naming of Jill Abramson won’t change the liberal slant of the Times, but it will allow the paper to concentrate on more important matters than the pet peeves of the executive editor.
Abramson was interviewed on CNN and had this to say about news aggregators:
I think that, you know, the aggregation of pieces of journalism that, you know, other news organizations have paid dearly to like get the story, get it right, tell the story behind the story, is — you know, poses a threat to us in some ways.
But I respect the fact that an awful lot of people like to read that way. And, in some cases, I think “The Huffington Post” has been inventive and presents what it aggregates well. So, you know, I don’t see myself — I’ve known Arianna Huffington since the early ’90s in Washington. She is an inventive person. I certainly don’t want to be in a war with her.
A wise choice considering how tough Arianna is.