Warm-up the Apple rumor engine again, because the mythical iTablet just got a boost from a very significant source indeed: The executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller.
Keller was speaking at Nieman Journalism Lab, giving a speech that was meant to be off the record—but which has now made its inevitable way to the Web (this will surprise no one, except maybe executives at the Times). The core of Keller's speech was to tackle the future of the gray lady, which is very much online: "The most innovative online publisher in the business," is how he describes the Times' Web publishing efforts. After discussing the thorny issue of paid versus free content, he noted that one measure of the newspaper's impact is that, "Apple sees our homepage as the place to try out its most creative advertising" (though that's apparently a "mixed blessing" probably due to the high levels of Web tech the company employs). But Keller's big reveal come about 8 minutes into the speech:
"We need to figure out the right journalistic product to deliver to mobile platforms and devices. I'm hoping we can get the newsroom more actively involved in the challenge of delivering our best journalism in the form of Times Reader, iPhone apps, WAP, or the impending Apple slate, or whatever comes after that."
Given that we've heard strong rumors that the Times is one of Apple's partners in developing content for the iTablet, and that Keller mentions the "slate" with confidence as if it's a real capital S product, these words carry some weight. There's even a further sprinkling of truthiness in that if any exec's going to have seen a prototype or worked on the design, it's certainly likely to be Keller: The e-book/e-newspaper market has long been suspected as one of Apple's main targets with the iTablet.
Then again, every publisher expects that an iTablet like device is coming, and Keller didn't say anything specific that we didn't know already—if there is going to be an Apple Slate, then the Times wants to be in on the action.
Sadly, in the face of all this future-friendliness Keller also says a few things that sound particularly future-unfriendly.
"As long as we're doing journalism on separate publishing systems, we will not be an integrated newsroom. We will not think and plan our journalism with the Web in the front of our mind."
While the Times is embracing new technology, these words show that in its planning, Times execs see the Web and the physical paper editions as very separate entities—and that print is still the more important of the two. As I ranted last week, this is fast becoming a dinosaur-like way of thinking. For proof, look no further than circulation numbers released today showing that the daily print paper has dropped below 1 million for the first time in many years. The future of journalism is bright, and it's very much online.
Keller excuses himself by noting that as he's been learning about the "digital newsroom, technology, product advertising, multimedia, social networking, video, and so on... I've been telling people that it feels a little like we've enrolled in graduate school, but we forgot to take any of the undergraduate classes on the way there." That's a measure of how fast the technology has overtaken the newspaper world, but it's also an indication of how divorced from the leading edge of news publishing these execs are—how different their thinking may be compared with the tech'd-up online audience they're trying to appeal to. Let's hope Keller is a quick study.