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Bill Keller is giving up his New York Times Magazine column, which will end in September, six months after it started.
Keller, who is becoming a full-time writer at the paper after he steps down as executive editor in September, will become an op-ed columnist. He said it was his decision to end the front-of-the-book column, which was one of the major new features of editor Hugo Lindgren’s relaunch of the magazine.
This story first appeared in the July 25, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“The magazine column has been fun — and I’ve loved being part of Hugo’s relaunch — but op-ed has greater license to have opinions, and a day-before deadline,” e-mailed Keller.
Lindgren, for his part, said he had been a fan.
“I liked it, it did what we wanted it to do,” he said. “I thought they were smart, well-written, fun to read.”
What did Lindgren think of the criticism of the column, in which Keller took on Arianna Huffington, Twitter and Times reporters who go on book leave? The column didn’t go over particularly well either in the Times newsroom or in the media world at large. Gawker referred to Keller’s work as an “institutional embarrassment” and to Keller as a “trite, awful columnist.”
“If you have a columnist that everyone loves — what is that? Is there one of those in the world?” said Lindgren. “I enjoyed some of the controversy that he kicked up.”
Originally, Keller was expected to write about 30 columns a year after Lindgren tapped him in January to write the lead story in the front-of-the-book section every other week or so. Since the first one appeared in March, Keller has written 12.
Keller told WWD in January that “it won’t be a media column,” but seven of his pieces focused explicitly on media. New York Magazine reported that that didn’t sit well with the media desk, and Page One stars David Carr, Brian Stelter and Bruce Headlam approached Keller to tell him he was making their reporting lives more difficult.
There was one other issue with his column: Of the 12 Keller wrote, five had corrections (including one column that had two).
Times senior editor of corrections Greg Brock told WWD that the Times doesn’t have a hard and fast correction limit for writers. But The Washington Post reported in its coverage of the Jayson Blair scandal that “Blair’s annual correction rate ranged from 5 to 6.3 percent — high enough to bring explicit warnings that he had to improve.”
Keller’s correction rate on the column works out to 41.6 percent.
“Thanks for noticing the corrections,” said Keller. “I don’t think any of them undermined the point of the column, but every one made me wince. And I’ve gotten better with practice, so there’s probably hope for me.”