The publisher of the New York Times announced in a staff memo Wednesday that the position of public editor — an ombudsperson of sorts, meant to be an advocate for the paper’s readers — is being eliminated. The current occupant of the role, Liz Spayd, was expected to remain until summer 2018, but her tenure will now end on Friday.
According to a screenshot tweeted by Times reporter Daniel Victor, the memo read:
The public editor position, created in the aftermath of a grave journalistic scandal, played a crucial part in rebuilding our readers’ trusts by acting as our in-house watchdog. We welcomed that criticism, even when it stung. But 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. Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office.
NPR media reporter David Folkenflik noted on Twitter that the first public editor’s tenure also “coincided with growing outcry over failed WMD/Iraq coverage.” But as Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone noted, the “grave journalistic scandal” the publisher referred to was in 2003, when reporter Jayson Blair’s plagiarism and fabrications were revealed. In a lengthy story on their own investigation into Blair’s wrongdoings, Times reporters wrote that “something clearly broke down in the Times newsroom. It appears to have been communication — the very purpose of the newspaper itself.” Read more…