I'm reluctant to give Keller too much credit for demystifying the Times because I've been unable to document how much of the glasnost that washed through the place during his eight-year tenure was his doing. But there is a lot to admire. The public-editor slot, depending on your point of view, has given the newspaper and its editor hell or has covered up for him since the mighty Daniel Okrent first took the position in 2003. Like or hate the public editor, such a position would never have flown in the Rosenthal or Raines eras. Keller instituted semi-annual "Throw Stuff at Bill" gripe sessions with his staff. (Had Raines done the same, paperweights, daggers, and grenades would have filled the air.) "Talk to the Times" has sought to give readers a chance to grill newsroom heavyweights. More than any previous Times editor, Keller engaged his critics directly, making the paper more human, more vulnerable, and in my reading, better.
But this is supposed to be a column about Abramson. Back in your cage, Keller.
Much is being made today about the fact that a woman has finally become the editor of the Times. Excuse me for not leading a parade or throwing confetti skyward or using Abramson's rise as an opportunity to cut and paste from Nan Robertson's The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times to remind people of how poorly the news profession (and other professions) have treated women. A worthy topic, but I'm all genuflected out on this one. I think of Abramson's promotion as a victory for journalism before I think of it as a victory for women. When Baquet takes over in several years after Abramson steps down, making him the first African-American executive editor of the Times, I'm sure I'll have parallel thoughts.
I don't have any advice for Abramson or Baquet aside from quoting something Keller told Hagan in 2006. Of the executive editor, Keller said:
You are dependent on this huge reservoir of talent, and your job is to create the circumstances under which they can do their best work, to reward them when they do well, correct them when they do wrong, set some guidelines, and spur their ambitions. But it's not about me.
Has my column been taken over by Opus Dei? Stations of the Cross … dispensations … genuflections. Send blessings via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and receive them via my Twitter feed. (Email may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)