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Former New York Times Editor On Future Of Criminal Justice Reporting

Bill Keller
Courtesy Photo
Bill Keller

Former New York Times Editor On Future Of Criminal Justice Reporting
Former New York Times Editor On Future Of Criminal Justice Reporting GUEST:Bill Keller, editor, The Marshall Project

People knew what really went on inside America's criminal justice system, but things change? That question is at the heart of the criminal justice reporting being done to the Marshall project. The online journalism outlet only started two years ago, yet this year won a Pulitzer Prize. The Marshall products editor is Bill Keller who worked for decades as a writer and executive -- Bill Keller will be speaking tonight at UC San Diego, and he joins me now. Welcome. Thank you, Maureen. Cartilages on the Pulitzer. Thank you. Your move from the times to a new nonprofit digital startup cost quite a bit of a stir. What made you want to make that move? I had all the good jobs at the New York Times so there was nothing left to do there. somebody comes along with an idea to build a news organization from scratch in the current climate of the turmoil of the news business. That was intriguing to begin with. I had not granted myself very much in the criminal justice issues, but at the time when I was approached, I was writing a column. I could write about anything I wanted so I wrote a couple about criminal justice and found it was a target rich environment for journalism. Also, unlike most of the other issues where government is paralyzed bipartisanship, there is a substantial overlap lot between the left and the right fixing the system. When you let the times, you want the Marshall project to be a wake-up call to the public. What did you mean by that? I meant I hoped we would be, in addition to a source of news and an aggregator, a catalyst. Our model is we partner with larger news organizations on almost everything we do. The hope is that we will both amplify the stories that we are telling and stimulate a general interest in the subject. Would you refer to this as advocacy journalism? No. I would describe it as journalism with a mission. The mission is not a specific piece of legislation, a specific prison population level, our mission is to hold the institutions accountable by their own standards. The corrections systems correct? As does the criminal justice to make us safer? Are we getting our money's worth? I see that as very much the tradition of good journalism. There are lots of media outlets that report on crime. How is covering crime it different from covering the criminal justice system? That is a really good question. I think historically, the media and I will include everything from the local TV news broadcast to the New York Times, has been much better at covering crime thing covering criminal justice. I think that is because we tend to think in terms of events rather than institutions. It is much more complicated to unravel the intricacies of how the court system works, how to prison systems work, then it is to just cover the latest shooting or the latest sensation. And so it is about the crime, but it is also about what happens after the crime and how indeed justice is achieved if justice is achieved. Right. Justice is a lofty term that we use a lot. I think of it more in terms of just whether the system is doing its job. Which is ultimately to keep us safer. I think by almost any standard, it is not. Here in California, many people have remarked that the pendulum is moving away from harsher and harsher prison sentences. It is now swinging back to a bit more lenient punishment if you could put it that way. President. Obama has spoken out against America's mass incarceration. Do you think a critical view of the justice system is a message America is ready to hear? I do. I started out in this job with a optimism of the willingness of the public to hear this story. The ability of politicians to work across party lines to find practical solutions. All that has been slow down a little bit by the fact that this is an election year. For politicians taking risks is an unnatural act, and there is still some risk involved in advocating reducing prison populations, shortening sentences for crimes, offering prison inmates education and skills that will help them adjust to the real world when they get out. In looking at this from just a distance, it seems to me that the relief of the police shooting videos has had a major impact on the way Americans view police, the way they view the criminal justice system, would you agree? Is not a game changer when it comes to this issue? I think that is right. It is not because suddenly there are more rogue police who are shooting young men of color. It is because more people -- everybody on the planet now has a camera in his pocket. We are actually witnessing these events, and that has awakened the country to a considerable degree to what people who live in those communities already have known for a long time. Which is -- most police do an excellent and great job. You have to start with that premise. But in the poorest communities in our big cities, there is both too much policing and not enough policing. There is too much of the patdown confrontation, suspicion policing, and not enough of the helping solve the crimes that go on in these communities to make them safer places. I am a big fan of [ Indiscernible ] book. Ghetto side. That is one of the best books that I have read last year where she talks about the failure of the police department, specifically in Los Angeles, but extrapolating nationally to solve murders which have become epidemic among young black men. I want to let everyone know that Bill Keller editor of the Marshall project will be speaking tonight about the future of the criminal justice reporting. He will be speaking at UC San Diego's price center. That is at 7 PM. Thank you for your time and. I enjoyed meeting you. Thank you for coming in, Bill. You're welcome.

Former New York Times Editor Bill Keller left the paper in 2014 after spending three decades there. Today, he’s the editor of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to reporting on the criminal justice system.

Keller told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday he hadn't done much reporting on the criminal justice system when he was approached for the job, so he began writing columns on the topic.

"I found that it was, what the military calls, a target-rich environment for journalism," Keller said. He described his organization's reporting as "journalism with a mission."

"But the mission is not a specific candidate, a specific piece of legislation or specific prison population level," Keller said. "It is to hold the corrections system accountable by its own measures. I think of it in terms of whether the system is doing its job, which is to make us safer."

Keller said the system is largely failing to do that, adding that crimes often go unsolved in communities with some of the heaviest police presence.

"In our poorest communities, there's both too much policing and not enough policing," he said. "There's too much of the patting down, suspicion policing."

Keller is in San Diego on Monday for a 7 p.m. lecture at UC San Diego's Price Center West, Ballroom B. He plans to talk about how criminal justice reporting is evolving.

"Historically, the media has been much better at covering crime than covering criminal justice, and that's because we tend to think in terms of events rather than institutions," Keller said. "It's much more complicated to unravel the intricacies of how the court system works than it is to cover the latest shooting or sensation."

His lecture is free and open to the public.