ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From The New York Times comes a heavyweight, new publication, and I mean heavy. It's a book that weighs 8 pounds and 3 and a half ounces. We weighed it. It is "The New York Times: Complete Front Pages." Actually, the book contains 300 front pages from the last 157 years. Images of all the front pages are on the set of DVDs that come with it and which account for only 1.6 ounces of the total. Bill Keller is executive editor of The New York Times. He reported many front-page stories in his career as a Times reporter. And he says that even in this age, when the Times is in a long, slow transition from the printed page to multiplatform, there's still a thrill to being on the front page.
Mr. BILL KELLER (Executive Editor, New York Times): I'm a little more sanguine than some people about the longevity of the printed paper and actuallyt this volume helps explain why, I think. I mean, The New York Times has been publishing since 1851. It's survived not only recessions and depressions and wars, but a few earlier instances of what we called disruptive new media, including radio and TV, which were supposed to put the printed newspaper out of business. So, and I think the printed paper adapts. It is a nice sensation to turn the pages, and you get a quality of sort of serendipity. You know, look, I love our website. I think it's great, but the Internet hasn't quite figured out a way to do serendipity in the same way that the old-fashioned, printed paper does.
SIEGEL: I must say that you can see how much the printed page has evolved over all of these years. It's hardly a static thing, and I love looking at the front pages from the 1850s.
Mr. KELLER: So do I. I mean, in those days, we didn't have bylines so you didn't get your name on the front page. But you almost invariably got your story on the front page because they seem to put everything on the front page.
SIEGEL: Yeah, I'm looking at a front page, actually. These from the days when New York was hyphenated.
Mr. KELLER: Mm-hmm.
SIEGEL: The paper was called The New York Daily Times and for many decades after that, it had a period at the end of it. I don't know why, but there was a period after Times - there's a column, these are your forebears, Bill, as foreign correspondents for The New York Times. Some editor wrote under heading from each different country, Spain - it is reported that Mr. Barringer will shortly resign his appointment of American minister in the court of Madrid; the Count Vilanueva(ph), the richest man in Spain, is dead. And of France, it says - this is my favorite - there is no news from the French Empire at any moment. That anyone could report no news at all, on the front page, I think is lovely.
Mr. KELLER: No news at all. And you know, in those days, every ship arriving in the harbor was a news story.
SIEGEL: Do you think we've arrived at some stasis - albeit it's a concept of the front page is something that's being unpacked on the Internet every day, obviously, but do you think we've arrived at some stable notion of what's supposed to be on the front page of a newspaper, or is it going to be as radically different 30 years from now as it may have been a few decades ago from today?
Mr. KELLER: Thankfully, I'm in a business where, you know, my job is to tell you what's happened and not predict what's going to happen. But if history a guide, it will be - assuming there is a printed front page in 30 years, I think it will be a lot different. You know, already the front pages that we put out this week are different from the front pages we put out two or three years ago in that - because so much of the just basic raw material of the news is up on the website all day long, the front page tends to emphasize more explaining-why-it-matters kinds of stories rather than just the facts.
SIEGEL: Is there a particular front page that's a favorite of yours in this collection?
Mr. KELLER: That's like picking favorites among your children. I like the ones that give you a sense of humility about this august news business that we're in. I'll give you two that fall into that category. One of them is the front page that reported Lincoln's Gettysburg address, which we all know is a great landmark of oratory.
Mr. KELLER: But readers of The New York Times found his address embedded in the second column of a long report about the dedication of a new national cemetery. I also - I have a real soft spot for the one reporting this discovery by some guy named Edison. It's something called the electric light.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KELLER: And I think the second or third deck of the headline said, conflicting statements as to its utility.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: Bill Keller, thanks a lot for talking with us about the book.
Mr. KELLER: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: It's Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times talking about the new book, "The New York Times: Complete Front Pages." A slide show of front pages, including that story skeptical of Edison's invention, is at npr.org.