If you were the executive editor of one of the world's most prestigious and widely read newspapers, how would you justify billing a reader for a print version that he's no longer reading?
It's probably a safe bet that New York Times executive editor Bill Keller never thought he'd have to make a direct pitch to such a reader who's become disenchanted with the experience of the print edition--at least not until Thursday night.
During a New York Press Club Q&A session at CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism, a man who identified himself as a retired reporter named Ken wanted to know why he should keep paying to receive the Grey Lady in hard copy.
"I subscribe to home delivery, but I get the next day's paper around 11:30 p.m. on the Internet," explained Ken, an older gentleman with a deep drawl. "The depth of the online edition is so vast," he said--and "the thinness of the print edition is so noticeable" as to be useless.
Keller clearly hadn't anticipated the question. "Um," he paused at the outset of his reply. "I'm not gonna argue that you should pay for something that you don't find useful. . . . I still personally like the print edition of the paper." For instance, "I like that I can read it on the subway," Keller continued. "I like that I can share it around the breakfast table. I like lying back in bed reading the newspaper better than I like lying back in bed reading the website on my iPad. ... But look, if you don't find that it's worth the money, I'm not gonna argue that you should donate to the New York Times as an act of charity."
Ken will soon be getting more bang for his buck. As a print subscriber, he won't be impacted when the Times moves forward with its long-delayed plans for erecting a metered paywall around its online content. Habitual online readers who don't buy the paper in print, however, will have to start paying for monthly access to nytimes.com. New York Times Co. chief executive Janet Robinson announced earlier this week that the set-up for the new online model is in its "final testing phase," and that "We expect it will launch shortly."
"You'll know more in a matter of weeks," said Keller, when pressed for details by the event's moderator, NPR "On the Media" co-host Brooke Gladstone.
Keller was more forthcoming about other matters. He announced that Grove/Atlantic will publish a paperback edition of the Times' eBook on WikiLeaks. Also, "We've had a few conversations with OpenLeaks," the new whistle-blowing organization recently founded by a high-ranking WikiLeaks defector, about a possible collaboration, he said.
Gladstone shifted gears: "Arianna Huffington, threat or menace?"
"I've started writing a column for the New York Times Magazine. I will refer you to the column a week from this Sunday," Keller coyly replied, teasing an upcoming HuffPo-related piece in the redesigned weekly supplement.
Is the Times working on an app for Google's Android platform?
When will it debut?
Thoughts on Fox News?
"I think if you're a regular viewer of Fox News, you're among the most cynical people on planet Earth," Keller snarled. "I cannot think of a more cynical slogan than 'Fair and Balanced' "
Press freedom and the Obama administration?
"I'd give Obama a mixed review in this area," he said.
Last but not least, is Keller stinging from the sudden departure of star op-ed columnist Frank Rich, who is headed to New York magazine?
"I hate to see Frank go," said Keller. "He's had many years of doing wonderful work at the Times. I think people will find him at New York magazine, and I also think most of Frank's junkies are also New York Times junkies. I don't feel like we're going to lose our audience because we've lost Frank. But I do feel a sense of loss."