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Davos08: Google’s environment

I’m at a surprise session with Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and the Google Foundation’s Larry Brilliant, moderated by Tom Friedman. Liveblogging:

The key difference between this and the Gore-Bono panel prior to this is that Gore concentrated on the things we must stop doing — as the movement does — while the Google team concentrates on what we can start doing, thanks to technology.

Brilliant says after the Bono and Gore session earlier: “It’s true that climate change takes the oxygen out of the room.” In other words, it takes attention and effort away from poverty and development. He says we have to get over our cultural ADD and handle more than one crisis at a time.

He outlines the Google Foundation’s priorities. They believe that people don’t know what services their governments offer and so they help inform them and help governments get that message out. Another priority is job creation. Less than 15 percent of jobs in the developing world are from small and medium enterprises and they are targeting growth there. In health, they are concentrating on diseases that jump from animal to human, such as AIDS, and become pandemics. They are funding early-warning systems. They concentrate on climate change: making ecological power cheaper than coal-fired power. And they believe electric cars plugged into a green grid will take care of much of our problems.

Larry Page talks about the renewable-power-cheaper-than-coal initiative. Buying a lot of electricity, Google knows that the cheapest came from coal. The cost of electricity as a percentage is going up, he says, and is approaching the cost of the computers themselves. So they want to get it cheaply and get it green. Startups can work selling green energy at 10 cents per kilowatt hour because there is a demand for renewable energy, he says, but that does not bring real change. “Our primary goal is not to fix the world,” he says, but they do have the power to drive things forward, to get to three cents.

Sergey Brin says the are concentrating on three energy sources: solar-thermal, deep geothermal, and high-altitude wind; if he had to add one, it would be photovoltaic. He says that windmills are on a par with coal but are intermittent and they think it can be even cheaper by using high-altitude wind, through kites, which are cheaper to make that metal windmills. They’ve invested in this and solar-thermal. Deep geothermal is a bit farther off because it requires more fundamental research to get to scale.

What’s the reaction of the energy companies? “They’re pretty good at pushing things into the future and you guys want to claim the future now,” Friedman says. Brin says some of these companies such as BP are invested but Google has an advantage because it does not have a legacy business to cannibalize. Indeed, Google can benefit its core business. “There’s a big bet at some point that you need to make that’s going to take capital.” And Google, he says, in a good position to take that risk.

Asked about the reaction of shareholders, Page says the investment is moderate and there is potential for payoff.

Friedman asks whether they can succeed in this space without taking more of a political position. Brilliant says very few of the people fighting against the climate change movement are bad people: “the have children, they have grandchildren.” He says that the movement has not done a good enough job to communicate. “You can’t separate the quest for dignity and fight poverty from climate change…. We have failed to get that degree of awareness in Congress.”

Friedman quotes Al Gore’s complaint that 3,000 questions asked in Sunday morning programs during the campaign included just three on global warming — equal to the three on UFOs. (Anyone have a citation for that?) “What are we doing, what is Google doing, to reframe the debate?” Friedman asks. Brilliant likens this to the second-hand smoking debate in achieving awareness.

Asked what the next president should do to help their cause, Page responds as an engineer and complains that there has been no research on transmission — which adds to costs — and so he wants a priority on that work from government — an interstate highway system for power, Friedman says. Brin’s answer: Renewable energy is not on a level playing field because of the costs of old energy: health and coal, politics and oil, tariffs on commodities for ethanol, regulation on electric-care development. Brin says they are generating 1.6 megawatts of solar power on their campus. “It’s been great. It produced shade. It reduced cost.” But he says that regulation, federal to local, adds cost. “There’s just all these barriers to clean energy that don’t exist for dirty energy.”

Dirty energy. That’s a nice phrase. As good as death tax.

Page says they are spreading the idea of holding business-plan contests: having events, giving out a little bit of money, helping winners get funding. “In Silicon Valley, they do that for breakfast.” To do that in Ghana, he says, would establish a community to keep this going.

Asked from the floor, by Time’s Michael Elliott, about the theme of the day — environment versus poverty, emphasis on versus — Page says that he gets irritated when people do not realize that the way out of these problems is technology.

I think he’s right: the discussion is too much about what we should not do rather than what we can do.

“You can’t succeed just out of conservation because then you won’t have economic development,” Brilliant explains. “Find a way to make electricity — not to cut back on it but to have more of it than you ever dreamed of.”

I say from the floor that I see a cultural difference between the movement and Google on this. Google has the positive message of the potential for change through technology. I ask about how they are going to get this message out to encourage investment from government and the public. Are they using lobbying, PR, education? Friedman adds that Exxon Mobil has “done a number” on the debate with PR. Brilliant says that their role is to get information to people, as much information as they can. Page says that success is the best message — that is, if they had three-cent power, everyone would come.

Gore, from the audience, takes issue with Brilliant, saying that getting information out is no longer sufficient. “That’s the way the world used to work. The world doesn’t work that way anymore. The reason that the tobacco industry was able to continue killing people for 40 years ater the surger General’s report…. they understood the power of strategic persuasion. They went about it in a very careful, organized, and well-funded way.” He says we are “vulnerable to strategic persuasion campaigns if the other side assumes that we should just get the information out there.” He says Exxon Mobil has funded 40 front groups to “in their own words position global warming as theory rather than fact.” He concludes: “We need to take them on, Goddamnit.”

Brilliant responds, saying he agrees with Gore but adds: “Each of us needs to play the role we are uniquely positioned to play.”

The other unspoken divide is about economics: Gore and Friedman favor raising the cost of carbon. Page and Brin see a victory in reducing the price of the clean energy. Tax versus investment.

Google is God

For something I’m working on, I compiled a bunch of stats on Google (sorry, I didn’t intend to blog it and so I didn’t capture all the links, but I found the collection so compelling I thought I’d share it):

• Google is the “fastest growing company in the history of the world.” – Times of London, 1/29/06
• Google controls 65.1% of all searches in the U.S. at the end of 2007 and 86% of all searches in the UK, according to measurement company Hitwise.
• Google was searched 4.4 billion times in the U.S. alone in October, 2007 (three times Yahoo), says Nielsen. Average searches per searcher: 40.7.
• Google’s sites had 112 million U.S. visitors in November, 2007, says Nielsen.
• Google’s traffic was up 22.4% in 2007 over 2006, according to Comscore.
• Google earned $15 billion revenue and $6.4 billion profit in 2007, a profit margin of 26.9%. Its revenue was up 57% in the last quarter of 2007 over 2006, says Yahoo Finance. As of late 2007, its stock was up 53% in a year. The company has a market capitalization of $207.6 billion.
• Google controls 79% of the pay-per-click ad market, according to RimmKaufman. It controls 40% of all online advertising, according to web site HipMojo.
• Google employed almost 16,000 people at the end of 2007, a 50% increase over the year before.
• Google became the No. 1 brand in the world in 2007, according to Millward Brown Brandz Top 100.

Not that we didn’t know this already. But the stats still amaze me.

The social flight

What if a plane flight were networked and became a social experience with its own economy?

For part of a book I’m finally starting to work on, I’ve been thinking about how companies and industries can be remade with Googlethink and social smarts (note how I’m not saying Web 2.0). It’s harder to reimagine some than others. The benefits of tearing apart and rebuilding cable companies are obvious. But I just about gave up on airlines, dooming them to their status as the new buses. What can one do with such a commodity service, and one that has deteriorated so badly?

Then I was inspired by Steve Baker at Business Week, who asked, “Why hasn’t aviation benefited more from Moore’s Law?” Maybe it’s not Moore’s law that can reform airlines but Jarvis’ First Law — give the people control and we will use it; don’t and you will lose us — and Zuckerberg’s commandment — give your people elegant organization — plus a bit of Googlethink about networks, platforms, and wise crowds. For Burda’s upcoming DLD event, one airline, Lufthansa, is asking what they should be in 15 years. Here’s one scenario of how they can change in far less time….

Start here: Most passengers on airlines today are connected to the internet on the ground and soon we will be in the air as airlines return to the idea of adding wireless internet to jets (see an AP roundup from yesterday here — I can’t wait). Getting us connected will be good for the airlines, not only because they have something new to sell — if they don’t try to gouge us — but also because we’ll be busy — engaged, entertained, connected — and less likely to grumble and revolt at delays. Busy passengers are happier passengers.

Once airplanes’ passengers are connected with the ground, that enables them to get connected with each other. It would be easy for the airlines — or, failing that, the passengers themselves — to set up social networks around flights and destinations. The possibilities are endless:

* At the simplest level, we could connect while in the air to set up shared cab rides once we land, saving passengers a fortune.

* We can ask our fellow passengers who live in or frequently visit a destination for their recommendations for restaurants, things to do, ways to get around.

* We can play games.

Note that this requires not only wifi internet access at a reasonable price but also electric plugs at every seat. The first airline to do this will gain the loyalty and appreciation of a huge number of wired road warriors.

Continental 747 lounge

* Now think back to the earliest 747s with their lounges where you could socialize with fellow passengers, something that still goes on even in the cramped quarters of today’s jets, though every inch is filled with a seat and though the cabin crew is less often the object of the flirting. The idea is coming back on Virgin and in the 787 Dreamliner and A380. So now imagine if on this onboard social network, you could find people you want to meet — people in the same business going to the same conference, people of similar interests, future husbands and wives — and you can rendezvous in the lounge.

* This is the key to decommodifying the airline: What if you chose to fly on one airline vs. another because you knew and liked the people better? What if the airline’s brand became its passengers? What if the airline even found ways to encourage more interesting people to fly with them because they knew that would attract and retain passengers (they could offer discounts and benefits to people who are active and popular in the social network)? Right now, all you offer is seats and miles: commodities. How much richer this would be if you offered small societies. Yes, we could still get stuck next to a talkative bozo — but not if we could meet people and arrange our seats before the flight thanks to the social network. Next to the right person, I might even tolerate a middle seat.

So these social networks should be opened before the flight. And that enables not only these on-flight connections but also a new economy:

* The airline can set up an auction marketplace for at least some of the seats: What’s it worth for you to fly to Berlin next Wednesday? You could bid and buy a seat from a passenger who already holds one. This could solve some of the airlines’ overbooking problem and reduce the cost of bumping customers if late-booking passengers can buy seats from fellow passengers in an open marketplace. You can bet that once a social network around a flight exists, we’ll compare what we paid. So why not be open? Yes, speculators could arbitrage seats, but so long as they’re nonrefundable, what problem is that for the airline? They become market makers. Besides, this sets a new market value for seats that in some cases will be higher than the airlines’ existing fares.

* The airline could also use this to predict and maximize load. What if there’s a sudden surge in demand for a destination the airline can see because bids appear in an auction marketplace for a certain route around certain dates (because of a new conference or festival or good media coverage for a new getaway or bargain)? The airline can add capacity, which keeps the airlines in control over arbitrageurs; the airline is always in control of supply and now it would know more about demand. Similarly, what if a flight is light and the airline starts offering passengers alternatives at great discounts to enable the airline to cancel a flight and reroute the equipment long before departure? The airline increases efficiency and profitability; the passengers get a dividend; and the environment gets a break. These things can be done in an open and flexible marketplace.

* While you’re at it, why not turn frequent-flier miles into an open market? In miles, the airlines have created a virtual currency with far greater reach and value than those on Second Life or Facebook. But they’re essentially illiquid. The airlines make it impossible to get frequent-flier seats with them unless you’re flying to Krakow on Christmas Day a decade hence. And the other deals they offer us — use your miles to buy a TV — are bad deals. This, in turn, devalues the virtual currency to the point that it offers an ever-decreasing incentive to choose one airline over another; it no longer acts as the decommodifier the airlines intended. So open it up: Let us bid on frequent flier seats with our miles. Let us trade and barter our miles with each other — I’ll sell you this iPod for miles I want to use to get my vacation. This will again add value to the currency.

* The main reason we go for miles today is to get silver or greater status so we can jump lines and board first. But I’m not in control of how much I travel; my employers are. So what you really want is my loyalty; you want a large marketshare of me. So let me earn privileges in other ways. Open this up, too. Let me bid miles or money for these benefits: create a market value for boarding first.

* The airline should find ways to involve employees in the network. They can also offer tips. They are the airline’s representatives to the community. And the airline should want to learn more about its employees through the network. Those who make the flight more pleasant and more social are an asset and should be rewarded. Besides, it’s hard to get nasty with cabin crews when you feel as if you know them.

* The airlines can also learn a great deal about their service from the network of passengers. We’ll tell you about the food and what’s worth paying for. I’ll start a movement to save my knees from the bozos who slam their seats into them. You’ll see which employees are your best marketers.

There are many subtleties to this. For example, in some cases, I won’t want to reveal my true identity (telling people I’m out of town), for others I will (doing business). If seats are being traded, real identities and credit cards must be in the system for security. And so on. But this would be easy to pull off with existing social software (Ning, Drupal) and links to existing social networks (Facebook, Linkedin) and existing auction markets (a walled-in eBay). The beauty is that no marketing is required; you’re simply serving, connecting, and organizing the customers you already have. Yet this act alone rebrands you as the social airline. (Better get there quick, before Virgin does.)

So brainstorm with employees and passengers. Imagine what it takes to be the open, social airline — a platform for travel — and then imagine the good that comes of it. Your customers will give you value if you trust them and let them.

: LATER: Ross twitters: “the social airline already exists, try the last flight to Vegas on a Friday night.”

Keller responds

Bill Keller of the Times responded to my complaint about his speech and characterization of my views about professional, mainstream media and journalism and citizens. I’m glad we’re moving closer together but I still want to correct the record. The exchange. First, from Keller:

* * *


After reading your long response to my Guardian speech, I concede it’s time to push the Refresh button on my summary of the debate. It’s clear that you (and others I used to think of as blog triumphalists) have moved some distance from our 2005 “citizen journalist” exchange and from the day you lectured a New York Times offsite meeting about the certain doom mainstream media faced at the hands of amateur journalists (bloggers) and our own readers (Digg was big on your agenda that night.) I hope it’s clear — from what we’re doing on our website, and from that speech last week — that I’ve moved some distance in your direction. My respect for blogs as a tool of journalism is not the least bit grudging, and my conviction that professional journalists should collaborate with their audience is heartfelt. That’s especially true when you have an audience as educated and engaged as ours.

We may — I’m not really sure — disagree on the relative parts to be played by the amateur and the professional in our journalistic future, or on the pace of change. We don’t disagree on the value of what you call “networked journalism.”

My aim in the speech was not to demonize anyone, but to give heart to the many journalists and consumers of journalism who worry that quality journalism is endangered. For all the many things the new medium has brought, it has not supplanted trained reporters in the field, the discipline of good editors, or the backing of brave and independent journalistic institutions. And many mainstream journalists have proven themselves enthusiastic and agile practitioners of the new forms. The enemy, as I said in the speech, is not disruptive technology, not bloggers, not press-hostile government. It is the despair that derives from an inability to see the enduring value of the old and the promise of the new.


* * *

My response:


Thanks so much for the response. I’m delighted that we’re meeting on the road, even though neither of us is exactly sure where it will lead.

I’m particularly glad to hear you endorse the value of networked journalism and I eagerly await seeing collaborative efforts from the Times and its public. You do, indeed, have a very wise crowd and that is a mighty force waiting to be mobilized to serve journalism and society. If I may suggest, you might even want to ask them for collaborative ideas; I’m sure they will have many good ones.

I’m also eager to push that refresh button and move forward, not back, leaving this tiresome us-v-them debate behind.

But I can’t do so without still correcting the record. I’m afraid you misremember and thus mischaracterize my stand. And considering that I am teaching students bound for professional journalism at CUNY and that I write about this very topic for the Guardian, where you spoke, it’s important to me to be clear on that record.

I’ve never predicted and certainly have not wished for the doom of professional journalism. Quite the contrary, I have been arguing — apparently not clearly or forcefully enough — that collaboration among professionals and citizens is a key not just to survival but growth for journalism.

If you can show me a citation to the contrary, I’ll fess up to it. But I do not find the sentiment you refer to in our 2005 exchange. Neither did I find it in the presentation I gave at the Times offsite. I looked up that Powerpoint and it included these lines:

We live in a post-scarcity era
Q: How do you grow with a citizens’ media world that doubles every 5 months?
A: You share: content, training, tools, promotion, and, yes, revenue.

And this:

The crowd is wise.
How do we enable the people we called our audience to become our partners?

And this:

How do we break free of the shackles of our medium and our history and become enablers… aggregators… connectors… networkers… trainers… vetters… and members of our community?

At the end, I filled a few slides with ideas for collaborative, networked efforts with your wise crowd and ended them with this hope:

This is how we grow.

Bill, that doesn’t sound like the threat of a would-be conquerer or the schadenfreude of a blog triumphalist with a death wish for mainstream media and journalism. Because it’s not. I have been consistent in this: I argue that we need professional journalism and organizations to survive and prosper and I hope that one way, just one way, to help journalism — indeed, to help it grow — is to work collaboratively with the public because now we can. That was the point of my initial hubristic open letter to you that started our exchange. I want to see these worlds come closer together, not move farther apart. That is my constant theme.

So we agree that we need journalists trained and supported in reporting and neither I nor any blogger I read has ever suggested that they should be supplanted. They can, however, be complemented.

There is nothing to be served by continuing the us-v-them debate. It is unproductive and ultimately damaging and certainly has become boring. Can we mutually call it over? Yes, press that refresh button, please. Let’s talk instead about the new opportunities we have to support journalism — both the activities and the business of journalism — by using new tools, including those of collaboration. As I said in my blog response to your speech, I would very much like to hear your vision for that, your vision for the future we all want journalism to have.

Early next year, I’ll be holding a conference next door at CUNY on new businesses models for news. Let’s discuss it there.

As is my habit, I’ll be blogging this: a coda to our earlier exchange.


– jeff

* * *

LATER: Keller responded to my email and I to his, both below. I don’t intend to make this a Dickensian serial as was our last exchange. But I’ll share the latest. From Keller:

It’s nice to renew the conversation, and thanks for clarifying your views on the coexistence of professionals and amateurs. Whether or not you intended to come across as a blog triumphalist and prophet of mainstream media doom, that’s certainly the way your audience — at that Times event — understood you. Perhaps it was in the ear of the beholders. In any case, I’m happy to be corrected, and will be careful to credit your good sense and good will when this subject comes up again.

And my reply:

Oh, doom is still possible if mainstream stewards do not care for their charges. We agree that the collapse of professional journalism would be tragic. I warn against that. But then, as I demonstrated with the slides I quoted in my last email, I try my best to suggest how that doom might be averted — and I’m glad to see the Times taking some of those steps. Does that make me an advocate of doom? Hardly. A prophet of doom? Not even. An ally in the race against doom? I’d hope so. I think this is a case of what I heard from the natives when I lived in California (and one also hears from veterans of therapy in New York): You and your colleagues may be “projecting.” I suggest that the paper’s management should stop seeing enemies at every corner and start seeing allies, even colleagues. That’s my point.
Onward. I’m eager to hear your ideas for collaboration with citizens and see these ideas in the paper and online.

* * *

Meanwhile, friend Jay Rosen sends this wonderful example of the potential for mobilizing citizens in acts of journalistic collaboration from — cough — the Washington Post and Dan Froomkin, writing at, HuffingtonPost, and Neiman Watchdog (now that’s thinking distributed):

Bloggers and other citizen journalists have a new and exciting opportunity to find and shed light on stories the mainstream media are missing – by combing through transcripts of recent Congressional oversight hearings. Without any fanfare, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has started posting preliminary transcripts of many of its hearings on its Web site, giving everyone a chance to pore through testimony and find news the MSM may have overlooked.

After four years during which virtually no administration officials were called to Capitol Hill to explain themselves, the new Democratic majority in January revived the tradition of closely examining Executive branch activities, with House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman leading the charge. But with a few exceptions, you wouldn’t know it from reading the paper or watching the news. One of the dirty little secrets of Washington journalism is that very few news organizations assign staff to cover anything but the most high-profile hearings and debates on Capitol Hill. As a result, few if any reporters show up for oversight hearings – and those who do tend to leave early. . . .

This is a great opportunity for citizen journalists to become Washington reporters. If you find some overlooked news in these or other transcripts, e-mail me your blog posts or your findings, and I’ll try to make sure that they aren’t overlooked as well.

Updating Bill Keller

In a speech in London for the Guardian, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller says this about bloggers and this blogger in particular:

My friend Jeff Jarvis, a blogger of long-standing and professor of journalism at the City University of New York, refers to news bloggers as “citizen journalists”, which has a sweet, idealistic ring to it. Jeff, like many of the most ardent true believers in the blog revolution, suggests that the mainstream media can be largely replaced by a self-regulating democracy of voices, the wisdom of the crowd.

First, I have never said that the crowd of bloggers would replace mainstream media and professional journalism. That’s a red herring that is too often attributed presumptively to bloggers and their advocates. It’s never properly cited because it can’t be. Where’s the link to the quote with me saying that? It’s fiction. I don’t say that. I don’t believe that. Jay Rosen shot that fish in the barrel a year and a half ago when he responded to hearing it again from Keller’s deputy Jon Landman:

Jay Rosen says that no one is saying that news will be decided by poll. Nobody is saying that we don’t need reporters. Nobody is saying that you should stop reporting and just listen. But these things are being said: The audience knows a lot of stuff and if you don’t tap that knowledge you’re not keeping up with your craft. And journalism has become interactive and if you’re not interacting, you’re not keeping up with your craft. And, he says, trust isn’t made the way it was; the trust transaction is different.

So can we please can that talk and stop accusing bloggers of wishing to eliminate journalists? The problem is, it serves the narrative Keller wants — and he’s not alone in this: to make us make them the enemy. The image they’re trying to present is that we, the people, are at their door trying to bash it down when, in truth, we’re only knocking and offering to help. Which leads to my second objection:

I have long since recanted the use of the phrase “citizen journalist.” I did, indeed, use it in an email/blog conversation with Keller back in 2005 (read from the bottom up), in which he suggested:

(btw, why “citizens”? Isn’t that a little insensitive to stateless bloggers, or bloggers bearing only green cards? “People’s media” strikes me as more inclusive, and it has a pedigree. Just a thought.)

A year later, I wrote:

I carry some of the blame for pushing “citizens’ media” and “citizen journalism” as terms to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this new era of news. Many of us were never satisfied with the terms, and for good reason. They imply that the actor defines the act and that’s not true in a time when anyone can make journalism. This also divides journalism into distinct camps, which only prolongs a problem of professional journalism — its separation from its public (as Jay Rosen points out). In addition, many professional journalists have objected that these terms imply that they are not acting as citizens themselves — and, indeed, I believe that the more that journalists behave like citizens, the stronger their journalism will be.

A that moment, I turned to using the phrase “networked journalism” and explained why:

“Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product. . . .

In networked journalism, the public can get involved in a story before it is reported, contributing facts, questions, and suggestions. The journalists can rely on the public to help report the story; we’ll see more and more of that, I trust. The journalists can and should link to other work on the same story, to source material, and perhaps blog posts from the sources (see: Mark Cuban). After the story is published — online, in print, wherever — the public can continue to contribute corrections, questions, facts, and perspective … not to mention promotion via links. I hope this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as journalists realize that they are less the manufacturers of news than the moderators of conversations that get to the news.

Indeed, this led in a straight line to my application for a grant from the MacArthur Foundation and the hosting of the Networked Journalism Summit, which the aforementioned Jon Landman attended.

But Keller needs to set up his competitive straw man because he wants to calculate his value on what he controls more than what he enables:

It is certainly true that technology has lowered the barriers to entry in the news business. The old joke that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one is now largely inoperative. Freedom of the press now belongs to anyone with an Internet Service Provider. This is all unsettling to the traditional news business, but it is also an opportunity. In an easy-entry business, success goes to those who – and here you must supply those ironic quote marks – move up the value chain. That is, you succeed by offering something of real value that the newcomers cannot match.

As it happens, newspapers have at least two important assets that none of the digital newcomers even pretend to match. One is that we deploy worldwide a corps of trained, skilled reporters to witness events and help our readers understand them. This work is expensive, laborious, sometimes unpopular, and occasionally perilous. . . .

The civic labour performed by journalists on the ground cannot be replicated by legions of bloggers sitting hunched over their computer screens. It cannot be replaced by a search engine. It cannot be supplanted by shouting heads or satirical television shows.

What is absent from the vast array of new media outlets is, first and foremost, the great engine of newsgathering – the people who witness events, ferret out information, supply context and explanation. . . .

And the other is that we have a rigorous set of standards. We have a code of accuracy and fairness we pledge to uphold, a high standard of independence we defend at all costs, and a structure of editorial supervision to enforce our standards.

Again, I hear no one saying he wants that work replicated. But can’t it be complemented? Witnesses to events can now help report what they see and context and explanation can come from both journalists and the experts they quoted who can now also publish. That means more journalism. I see that not as a competitive threat but as a grand opportunity. Knock, knock. Someone’s at the door, Bill. Invite them in. I’ve been suggesting that since 2005. Perhaps you can even teach them about your standards. I’ll offer your my classroom next door at CUNY and I’ll bring the bagels. Perhaps you can leave not just with a mutual understanding and respect but even with some journalism you can do together.

Keller tries to issue a caveat. Some of his best friends are bloggers.

I am a convert to blogs, those live, ad-libbed, interactive monologues that have proliferated by the millions, with an average audience consisting of the blogger and his immediate family. The Times actually produces more than 30 of them, in which our reporters muse on subjects ranging from soccer to health to politics. Blogs can swarm around a subject and turn up fascinating tidbits. They allow you to follow a story as it unfolds. And, yes, there are bloggers who file first-hand reports of their experiences from distant places, including Iraq – and sometimes their work is enlightening or intriguing. But most of the blog world does not even attempt to report. It recycles. It riffs on the news. That’s not bad. It’s just not enough. Not nearly enough.

No one says it’s enough. Point me to the person who does. Cite a quote.

If I were a Times blogger, I’d be insulted by this from my editor. They don’t just muse. They do report. And they dig up more than tidbits; they are writing news that starts online and ends up in the pages of the paper. In just the last week, talking with news executives from other large institutions, I’ve been praising those Times blogs, particularly Saul Hansell’s Bits blog, Virginia Heffernan’s video blog, and the campaign blog, Caucus.

In the rest of his speech, the meat of it, Keller is meant to talk about the state and future of newspapers. I don’t hear a vision for that future from him. He is confident in print, at least for sometime, at least at The Times. He is proud, with reason, of the paper’s migration of content onto the web. He confesses that he doesn’t know they will get to the Promised Land or what that land is. Instead, he offers his defense of the Times and its verities and value.

That’s the part that scares me. I so want to hear a vision for the future because I, too, am not sure how we’ll get there, but I wish that people in a position to execute their visions were eagerly trying many things to find some way over the void. Says Keller:

And then there is the business of our business. As has been widely reported, many daily newspapers are staggering from an exodus of subscribers, a migration of advertisers to the web, and the rising costs of just about everything. Newspapers are closing bureaus and hollowing out their reporting staffs.

At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, “How are you?” in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce.

What I wish they were asking themselves instead is, “What’s new?”

* * *

I’ll leave it to others to dissect Keller’s views in his speech on America today, the Times’ verities, and the Bush White House:

The Bush administration has merely fed a current of public antipathy that has been running against us for a long time, a consequence of our own failings and, perhaps, a tendency to blame the messenger when news is bad.

For those collecting them, here is Keller on the Times and the start of the war in Iraq:

Even with audiences like this one, who are presumed to be well read and world-savvy, I’m constantly surprised by the presumption of bad faith when people talk about our business. That is in some measure the fault of our own shortcomings, the well-publicised examples of journalistic malfeasance, the episodes of credulous reporting in the prelude to the war in Iraq, the retreat of some news organisations from serious news into celebrity gossip, and so on. It also reflects the fact that we live in cynical times, in a clamorous new media world of hyperventilating advocacy. And so I always feel obliged to pause and state what, to me and many of you, is obvious. . . .

At the other end of the culpability scale, I’ve had a few occasions to write mea culpas for my paper after we let down our readers in more important ways, including for some reporting before the war in Iraq that should have dug deeper and been more sceptical about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction. It’s not fun to take yourself to the woodshed, but it is essential to our credibility, and it is not something all institutions do. Come to think of it, we’re still waiting for the White House mea culpa on those elusive weapons of mass destruction.

: LATER: More comments over at Comment is Free.