New York Times Mutes Public Editor (And Effective Criticism)

New York Times public editor Liz Spayd on decision to eliminate her position by Pete Vernon.

From the post:

THE DECISION THIS MORNING BY THE NEW YORK TIMES to eliminate the position of public editor touched off a debate over the value of a position established in the wake of the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal to hold the paper’s editors and reporters accountable to industry standards and reader concerns.

Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. explained the move in a memo to staff: “The responsibility of the public editor—to serve as the reader’s representative—has outgrown that one office.”

According to Sulzberger, “When our audience has questions or concerns, whether about current events or our coverage decisions, we must answer them ourselves.” To that end, the paper will rely on an expanded comment section and social media feedback, as well as a new “reader center,” which was announced yesterday.

Relying on social media critiques and angry voices in the comment sections is a curious way of replacing an experienced journalist who could offer nuance and perspective while writing with the institutional backing of the nation’s most influential newspaper. The move comes at a moment when public confidence in the media is at an all-time low. In a time when the value of introspection and transparency is at a premium, cutting a position designed to provide both smacks of self-satisfaction and a misreading of the current media landscape.
… (emphasis in original)

Vernon’s post deserves your attention but the adage:

Everyone’s Responsibility Is No One’s Responsibility

answers Sulzberger the best.

Can you name a single reader of the New York Times for who holding reporters and the editorial process of the New York Times (NYT) accountable is their day job??

That’s the trick isn’t it?

If it’s not your day job, with resources commensurate to the task and access, how will you “hold” the New York Times accountable?

Will you post to Facebook or Twitter? Exactly how many people do you think will see/consider your “speaking truth to power?”

The public editor, publishing in the NYT, had a voice at least as loud as the editors and reporters.

That was Sulzberger’s real problem with the public editor. He wants the appearance of accountability but not its reality. Critics should be unfunded, isolated, powerless voices that can be easily ignored.

Sulzberger needs to go down on your list of enemies of journalism and the public in general.

Data journalists, start tracking NYT contents for your degradation of journalism stories two or three years hence. (I not presuming an outcome of silencing the public editor, that’s a forecast.)

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