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May 31, 2017

New York Times Eliminating Public Editor Position

When The New York Times created the job of public editor, at the recommendation of a committee tasked with a journalism scandal at the newspaper, the newspaper’s executive editor Bill Keller described the position as a benefit to the newspaper and its credibility. It represents “a pair of professional eyes, familiar with us but independent of the day-to-day production of the paper, can make us more sensitive on matters of fairness and accuracy, and enhance our credibility,” he said.

Those eyes will soon be permanently shut. The newspaper today announced it is discontinuing the public editor position, even before the term of current editor Liz Spayd is set to end.

Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. pointed to social media in justifying the move. While the position was once necessary, he insisted, “today, our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be.” The explanation echoed that given several years ago by the Washington Post's Marty Baron. “There is ample criticism of our performance from outside sources, entirely independent of the newsroom, and we don’t pay their salaries,” he said.

But Public Editors (or ombudsmen, as they are often called) should not be confused with random critics on Twitter. Unlike most social media users, they’re able to lace up their shoes, walk down the hall, knock on a journalist’s door, and ask pointed questions about this decision or that coverage. As importantly, they can report back to readers about what they heard, and how they assess the response, on the pages of the same newspaper where the article in question appeared.

As Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins wrote about Baron’s comments, "That’s nonsense. Newsrooms don’t really care about public criticism, which is often uninformed, but historically they have cared when someone with some journalism chops questions the decisions."

Collins said the same about Sulzberger’s statement. “Readers simply do not carry the weight of a fellow journalist where criticism is concerned.”

Other journalists have likewise criticized the decision.

Eliminating the position of Public Editor does not seem like a great idea. Frankly, I'd love to see us add one. https://t.co/JhgxuzhS6y

— Steven Rich (@dataeditor) May 31, 2017

As a former ombudsman and newspaperman, I don't approve.

The New York Times is eliminating the public editor role https://t.co/89H4HMxaz4

— John Scalzi (@scalzi) May 31, 2017

3. The one thing an ombud or public editor can almost always do is hold feet to the fire, and get a real answer out of management.

— Margaret Sullivan (@Sulliview) May 31, 2017

The @nytimes reasons for getting rid of the public editor either mean they're lying or don't understand the Internet. Tough choice https://t.co/6HMK1OTKVN

— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) May 31, 2017

Posted by GI at May 31, 2017 12:38 PM

Comments

Well – look what Liz got for getting on Fox and saying the New York Times needed to look in the mirror…

Posted by: Robert Schuckit at June 1, 2017 04:42 PM

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