As with actors who want to direct and musicians who want to produce, it's not unusual to find an editor who would rather write. It is , however, slightly more difficult to turn up a man who wants to give up one of the most powerful jobs in journalism just as things were going well -- more or less -- to go back to dipping his quill after publishing a string of columns that led to his digital pillorying and enervated some key staffers.
Enter Bill Keller, the New York Times executive editor who will soon step aside for Jill Abramson to take the helm. Mr. Keller will focus on his writing, a couple recently examples of which went for throats of both Arianna Huffington and Twitter without adding much to the debates about either. According to Gabriel Sherman, those columns -- summed up as "old-media id" -- pissed off The Times' team of media reporters, who, it should be noted, just had a movie made about them. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for this one:
Keller's columns infuriated some members of the newsroom, especially the Times' media desk, who felt that the executive editor should be a kind of impartial honesty broker. Times media editor Bruce Headlam and media columnist David Carr had an intervention with Keller to explain how his columns were hurting their ability to cover the industry. "I heard from Bruce, Dave and Brian [Stelter] after the Arianna column had complicated their lives, which it was not intended to do," Keller told me. "Even though I knew I would cause a certain amount of consternation in the building, I decided that was okay because it was worth having a conversation about this."
On the matter of Ms. Abramson's ascendence, Capital NY's Tom McGeveran did a nice job revisiting her role in the Times botching of the Iraqi WMD story early last decade, for which she publicly accepted blame. Mr. McGeveran nets out that that failure actually helps to qualify her for the top job:
I can construct a fairly neat storyline, one I'll go with for now, in which one of the reasons Abramson is the best person to run the Times at this moment is that she is one of the very few people in the building (however much Sulzberger may like to give Charlie Rose neat quotes from his grandfather)* who really understands what the Times is and what it can do for good or evil, and who understands her own responsibility in the job of running it. She learned it in the hardest possible way.
Going back to the subject of literary-minded middle-age men trying to wrap their minds around technology, let's stop on Jonathan Franzen for a minute. The Times printed an edited version of his commencement address to Kenyon College, wherein Mr. Franzen talks about technology, love, and, of course, birds. There's also a passage that should be instructive to any of the many thousands of marketer types out there now obsessed with hoarding as many Facebook likes for their brands as possible. Think about it:
A related phenomenon is the transformation, courtesy of Facebook, of the verb "to like" from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse, from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice. And liking, in general, is commercial culture's substitute for loving. The striking thing about all consumer products -- and none more so than electronic devices and applications -- is that they're designed to be immensely likable. This is , in fact, the definition of a consumer product, in contrast to the product that is simply itself and whose makers aren't fixated on your liking it. (I'm thinking here of jet engines, laboratory equipment, serious art and literature.)
But if you consider this in human terms, and you imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist -- a person who can't tolerate the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likable.
Jason Calacanis stirred up the internet with a blog post detailing how Google's been "naughty" recently. One of the issues is the lack of transparency when it comes to how Google ranks web pages. The solution, says Mr. Calacanis, is to create an independent content-ratings agency, a truly interesting idea. He's even willing to put some skin in the game:
Google's opaqueness creates too many problems. We need a third-party service that rates the rater as a check-and-balance to Google's dominance.
An independent, transparent, PageRate system would, although subjective, be a service for all of us in this debate.
PageRate would simply rate pages and search results and publish a Moody's or Klout-like score. Details of the report would be open for everyone to see and debate.
Why doesn't this yet exist?!
If it did, you could look at Google rankings and say, "This result is missing the top three ranked pages which are over 80 in PageRate, and the top five include three with a PageRate score of under 60."
I just bought PageRate.com for $1,700, and if I can find two tech leads in the Y Combinator format, I will start this company with you and put in $250K of my own money to get it going.
We end with a down-and-dirty piece of service journalism that explains how a news organization should react when its website goes down. Rather that sit around and whinge about that unreliable CMS or those damn 4Chan kids, Poynter's Jeff Sonderman argues that you should continue to publish, using all the digital platforms that are still working. Tumblr, for instance. He lists out all the organizational, managerial, and technological considerations that go into having a plan B publishing approach. I'll bet you didn't think of this:
Add an analytics tracking code. Decide whether to use the same code as on your normal site or to track the temporary site separately. Either way, you'll want to look back later at how much traffic you received and how the temporary site functioned.