Former Executive Editor Of The New York Times Speaks About ‘Truth In The Time Of Trump’

Joe Shaw, the executive editor of the Express News Group and Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York Times at the Rogers Memorial Library on Thursday. DANA SHAW

Has Donald Trump’s presidency affected the meaning of “truth” in the media industry?

Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York Times, sat down with Joseph Shaw, the executive editor of the Express News Group, to dissect that loaded question.
The free event, held at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton, reached maximum capacity days before it was scheduled. More than 100 people filed into the library’s meeting room on Thursday afternoon, August 22.

Mr. Shaw started the conversation by noting the necessity of having an “adult conversation” about the current administration and the role it has played in the world of news media, for newsrooms and audiences alike. “I don’t want it to be about bashing the president, but I want to talk about how, as an industry, we, in general, have to respond to it,” Mr. Shaw said.

All eyes were on Mr. Keller, a veteran journalist and editor with almost 50 years of experience in the industry, 27 spent at The New York Times. He started there as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., bureau and ended as the executive editor, the newsroom’s highest-ranking position.

He was also the founding editor-in-chief of the The Marshall Project, a five-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit online news organization that solely covers issues related to the U.S. criminal justice system, before stepping down in April.

With Mr. Keller’s national, international and nonprofit news background, and Mr. Shaw’s community news background, having worked at a local news outlet covering the South Fork for 21 years, the hour-and-a-half-long conversation illustrated the current state of the news media at all levels.

Mr. Shaw cut to the chase with his first question: “In the time of Trump, is there a crisis that we’re facing in our industry?”

“The short answer is, yes,” Mr. Keller replied.

He spoke about Mr. Trump’s denunciation of the mainstream media and how that has posed challenges to news organizations and reporters who must maintain an objective eye. He also placed some of the blame on the consumer, saying we have an “audience problem” and suggested that there should be more of an effort in schools to teach media literacy and “critical reading,” as they do critical thinking.

The two men discussed how internet use has transformed the way news is being produced and consumed, leading to a rapid spread of misinformation and a loss of discipline within the field, and how organizations are adapting to address the change.

Despite the challenges that the industry currently faces, as outlined in the talk, Mr. Keller gave listeners at least one takeaway: “With all of its flaws, we still are the glue that holds the democracy together. People have to know what the government is doing and why. They have to know how the economy works. They have to know what their fellow citizens are going through.”