Fast Chat: Bruce Headlam

The NYT media desk editor shares his feelings about Times documentary 'Page One'

Adweek: So, how’d you feel about the movie?
Bruce Headlam: How did I feel about it?

Yeah, did you like it?
Well, I don’t even like seeing pictures of myself, so seeing myself on a 40-foot screen is not my idea of a good time. We considered [director Andrew Rossi] a journalist. We had no guarantees how it would turn out. I was very proud of how my reporters appeared. I was proud of how the Times came off. He obviously is a fan of the Times. So, not knowing what to expect, I was happy. And I was reluctant—I didn’t particularly want to do it—but I said I would do it if enough of my reporters wanted to do it, and they did.

Why were you reluctant?
Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t want to be followed around for a year by a camera. I couldn’t imagine, just on a personal level, how I would come off. And it just didn’t seem like a great way to spend my time. But, you know, I’m an editor for a good reason: I don’t particularly like the limelight.

How have people you know reacted to the film?
The few people who’ve seen it, they tend to like the things that to me feel very routine. You know, they like the kind of procedural stuff. To me, that’s just what I do for a living, and even I’m not interested in it some days. So I’m amazed anybody else would be.

The movie depicts things like WikiLeaks, Huffington Post, Gawker, and Vice as challenges to the Times. Do you feel that those challenges warranted a film?
Well, that’s not really a question for me. That’s more of a question for Andrew. I suppose I would say, you know, in 50 years, if this is dug out of a vault somewhere, whether there’s a New York Times or not, people will get a sense of what was changing in the media during this time. But whether that’s enough in the world to warrant a film, I don’t know—I’ll leave that for Andrew and whoever his audience is.

Do you personally think that the Media desk is the best representation of the paper?
No, no. I think it’s a representation of the paper. You know, we do things a particular way, but we’re not getting shot at, we’re not covering the Arab Spring. We’re covering ourselves. And as we say here, “How do we cover ourselves? That depends on where we’re getting kicked.” But I don’t want to say, “We are the best representation.” We may be the stars of the film; we’re not the stars of The New York Times, and I’m pretty happy with that…There are certainly times in the film where you think, “Why are they talking to the media guys? They’re not getting shot at.” But we’re kind of stand-ins for the entire newsroom.

How do you mean?
Well, we kind of represent the Times way of reporting; we just happen to be reporting on our own demise—or, our own near-demise.

People who see the film who are not in the New York City media world might walk away thinking the Times is in a very tough and unique position. I think a lot of people outside our world don’t really know that…
I don’t know that our position is unique now. I don’t know that we’re different from The Washington Post.

I mean “unique” in terms of the Times’ history.
I guess that’s true…To me, and this is maybe looking from inside, part of the film seems to be the Times trying to embrace these new things…David [Carr] being on Twitter, hiring Brian Stelter and having him function in the way he does. I mean, we didn’t hire Brian to turn him into a Timesman; we hired Brian in a sense because he represented something we saw and thought we needed. There may be corners of the paper where they are critical of that kind of world…I don’t really feel that about my guys.

What has your reaction been to the ongoing conversation about [outgoing Times executive editor] Bill Keller and his thoughts on Twitter?
I think I’ll leave conversations about Bill to Bill.