Keller interacts

A subtle box in The Times announced this morning that Executive Editor Bill Keller will go online and “answer questions in this space about the newspaper and the news.” I might have found a different phrasing: Let’s not presume that he has the answers or that the readers want to ask them. I’d prefer “discuss” or “converse” and leave open the option that he and his editors would ask the public questions to answer. But I quibble.

I will not be surprised when some of the submissions to this new feature are rather harsh and when Timesmen complain about that. The implication will be, “see what happens when the masses mass?” But remember that these people feel as if they have been shouting to a brick wall for years. Let the steam rise first and get into a conversation — as Washington Post people have been doing successfully for sometime in their regular chats — and I will bet that you’ll end up with good discussions that are quotable and even newsworthy.

Maybe you’ll enjoy interacting so much, you won’t just do it with filtered email. Maybe you’ll even blog.

  • R Rainey

    Well, Keller’s first chosen question and answer are up. It is about the annoying jump between sections of the paper edition and completely irrelevant to the online edition. Isn’t it a little clueless to pick a question about the dead tree paper as the first Q for an online Q&A?

  • You seem to have a rather persistent interest in Keller declaring that he has a blog and that he has succumbed to your ranks.

    And, between a blog and a Q&A, which format does a better job at answering questions? Have a look at the Cincinatti Enquirer‘s editor’s blog: editor Tom Callinan is using the classic blog technique of posting a new entry– and ducking questions that get asked in the older entries.

    I’m afraid that the format you love is just another means for the Voiced to write whatever’s on their mind– and call it “conversation.”

  • A.J.: Fair point. But the Greensboro editor has a great blog. It’s not the form, it’s the intent, eh? But the advantage of a blog, in my mind, is that it gives someone a persistent place for comment and interaction, rather than a place where you come for a week and then leave. It’s a committment. It’s a place to go to see what he has to say about something that matters to news or journalism or the Times. That’s what I’m aiming for when I want to see a blog.

  • It all depends on who should have control– the editor-as-blogger, or the users? The blog format only arose because it gave power back to the writer/publisher.

    Let us take a look at one of the few entities more fundamental to the information business than the Times: Microsoft. Yes, a lot has noise been made by, and about, its blog mobilizer. But it also has the MSDN forums which have 136,000 users. It’s the users that are in control there. They ask the questions and Microsoft employees or expert developers respond; unanswered questions are clearly marked. And I’d call it a persistent place for comment an interaction.

    But it’s a big secret, as no one hosts forum conferences; only blogs are buzzworthy. The Enquirer editor can host a blog and be celebrated for it, and sleep comfortably that his critics are cordoned off in the comments.

    You know as well as I that the Times and companies like Advance.Net had invested heavily in the 1990’s in interactive platforms that ultimately proved crummy– WebCrossing anyone? Abuzz? The latter was at least designed quite scalable, but the Times for some reason could not integrate it with their articles, or get enough reporters to use it, and they ultimately let it die. It would have been a great way for users pressing their issues.

    And conveniently, the blog came along to appear to put power in the hands of the users… a fitting illusion for the news business, which itself is in the business of illusions.