NYT‘s Bill Keller and Dean Baquet Talk Wikileaks, Murdoch, Pay Wall

Kalb Report host and veteran journalist Marvin Kalb grilled NYT executive editor Bill Keller and Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet at the National Press Club last night. Baquet spoke for just five minutes of a one-hour program.

Kalb declared himself a NYT fan who respected the publication as a leader in the news business. But you wouldn’t know it from the tone of the interview. Early on, he pressed Keller on the number of features in the Times, some of which appear on the front page. Kalb said he was “of the sort” who believes only hard news belongs on the front page. Keller defended features, saying they were important for telling stories, and had news value. Kalb wasn’t persuaded.

Asked about competition, Keller said that though WaPo and WSJ are still major competitors, online media have also been competitive, not just for traffic but for reporting and editing talent. He named Politico, HuffPost, and The Daily Beast, and says he reads them daily. Or, as he explained,”somebody looks at them and tells me.”

Kalb and Keller also clashed over commentary and analysis in news pieces. Kalb said there “should be a wall between the two.” Keller disagreed. “I don’t mind analysis in the news pages. In fact, I encourage it…It’s what readers want,” he said.

Kalb seemed pissed…

“Aren’t you making an assumption? How do you KNOW that?” Kalb asked incredulously. “Maybe all they want is a hard news story!”

Keller commented on the proposed pay wall for the NYT website, Wikileaks, Rupert Murdoch, and blogging as well.

On the pay wall: Most people won’t ever encounter the paywall. Casual readers won’t be asked to pay for articles. But people who use the NYT as their primary news source “should pay a little something for it.”

On Wikileaks: Kalb questioned the NYT‘s use of Wikileaks as a source and said that if only British newspapers had obtained the cables, the NYT would have maybe covered the story on page 16. Keller’s response: “Oh, you’re SO wrong.”

On Rupert Murdoch: On initial mention of Murdoch, Keller initially joked, “Who?” before going on to say that Murdoch’s legacy will be Fox News, which he says has created a “level of cynicism in general” that’s “unhealthy.”

On blogging: Neither Keller or Baquet have blogs. “They’re very time-consuming…We both have more or less full time jobs,” Keller said. Kalb asked if NYT reporters have their own blogs. Keller told him that the NYT has hired people to blog for them, a fact Kalb apparently found interesting: “Oh, I see!”