Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

What Does the New York Times Really Know About Apple’s Tablet? “I Ain’t Sayin’,” Says Editor Bill Keller.

bill-kellerLeave it to the Apple-obsessed to go nuts over a three-word phrase in a week-old video of a two-week-old event. But that’s what they did yesterday.

The text in question: The passing reference to an “impending Apple slate” by New York Times (NYT) executive editor Bill Keller in an address to his staff. That’s it.

How is this considered news? Because while everyone in Appleland is positive Steve Jobs has a wonderous tablet computer up his sleeve, no one has actually seen one. But if the guy running America’s newspaper of record mentions it, then it must be true, right?

I had a different take on this: The Times, like every other big publisher, assumes Apple (AAPL) is working on a tablet and would like to figure out how to get its stuff onto the device. But I assumed that the Times, like every other big publisher, has had no contact with the famously secretive company about its plans.

That is, Keller could have said “the Apple slate or tablet or whatever that I believe the company is working on, but don’t know about firsthand.” But he whittled his thoughts down to three words–because he’s good at writing and words and stuff like that, the way you’d think the guy running America’s newspaper of record would be.

But just for kicks, I checked in with Keller yesterday to clarify: Does he actually know what Apple is up to? Or is he in the same boat as the rest of us?

His answer, delivered via a PR rep: “I ain’t sayin’.”

Okay, then!

Let’s start by noting that it’s possible that Keller is simply tweaking a reporter’s earnest query with a purposely delphic remark.

And even if Keller does know something about Apple’s plans, that doesn’t mean he knows much. Apple is famous for keeping its vendors and partners in the dark about its product plans until Steve Jobs unveils the devices onstage.

Still, if Apple has talked to Keller and the Times about its tablet in any way, that news will come as a surprise to other publishers I’ve talked to, who can’t get Apple to even wink or nudge about the device.

Earlier this month, for instance, I reported that executives at Time Warner’s (TWX) Time Inc. couldn’t get Apple “to even acknowledge to Time Inc. executives that it plans to produce a tablet device.”

Yesterday, I talked to an executive in charge of digital efforts at another big brand-name publisher who said the same thing. “You can’t even joke with them about a tablet,” said the executive. “They get very serious and cut the conversation short.”

Has Keller or any other Times executive had a longer conversation? I pinged Keller again last night for clarification, but haven’t heard back. If I do, I’ll update here.

In the meantime, if you want to read the tea leaves yourself, they show up around the 8:30 mark in this video, first published by the Nieman Journalism Lab:

Bill Keller speaks to the digital group at The New York Times from Nieman Journalism Lab on Vimeo.

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