MUST READ: Bill Keller on journalism and beyond

2 December 2007

The key difference between Indian and American journalism today is the role the leading brands play in setting benchmarks for compatriots and competitors. In the United States, despite a generally bleak scenario all around, the New York Times sets standards that leaves other media houses in awe and wanting to emulate.

In India, on the other hand….

Last week, Bill Keller, the executive editor of NYT, delivered a lecture in London that, well, only an executive editor of NYT could have. Smart, witty and insightful, it holds up a grim mirror to what we in India have lost, perhaps almost irredeemably: a seriousness of purpose, a seriousness of direction, and a seriousness of ownership.

“People crave trustworthy information about the world we live in. Some people want it because it is essential to the way they make a living. Some want it because they regard being well-informed as a condition of good citizenship. Some want it because they want something to exchange over dinner tables and water coolers. Some want it so they can get the jokes on the late-night TV shows. There is a demand, a market, for journalism.

“And I would argue that in this clattering, interconnected, dangerous world, journalism that cuts through the noise has never been needed more….

“The truth is, people crave more than raw information. What they crave, and need, is independent judgment, someone they can trust to vouch for the information, dig behind it, and make sense of it. The more discerning readers want depth, they want scepticism, they want context, they want the material laid out in a way that honours their intelligence, they might even welcome a little wit and grace and style.”

Keller also laid out the New York Times‘ tenets of journalism during the course of the lecture in memory of The Guardian columnist Hugo Young:

First: We believe in a journalism of verification rather than assertion, meaning we put a higher premium on accuracy than on speed or sensation.

Second: We believe in transparency – that is, we aim to tell you how we know what we know, to attribute our information as much as possible to named sources, to rely on documentary evidence when we can.

Third: We are agnostic as to where a story may lead; we do not go into a story with an agenda or a pre-conceived notion. We do not manipulate or hide facts to advance an agenda.

Fourth: We don’t do this as a hobby but as a career. Whether you call it a craft, or a profession, or an occupation, it is something we take seriously, and we demand levels of training and experience that we seek to pass on from one generation to the next.

Read the full text of the lecture: Not yet dead

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