New York Times eliminates public editor oversight position

New York Times eliminates public editor oversight position
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The New York Times is eliminating its public editor position, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. announced in an internal memo Wednesday.

The position will end Friday when current public editor Liz Spayd leaves the paper. Huffington Post first reported the public editor elimination. 

The public editor position was created in the wake of 2003 Jayson Blair fabrication scandal to act as an internal, independent watchdog on the Times, as well as an outlet for readers' concerns.

Public editors wrote regular columns critiquing the Times in the paper's op-ed section. But Spayd had been regularly criticized herself since taking over the position in 2016. After Spayd criticized the Times's sports coverage, the sports section took to its official Twitter account to slam her. 

In his memo announcing the end of the public editor column, Sulzberger pointed to expanded article commenting and the wide availability of outside media criticism as reasons the Times's oversight duties have "outgrown" the public editor position.

"There is nothing more important to our mission, or our business, than strengthening our connection with our readers. A relationship that fundamental cannot be outsourced to a single intermediary," Sulzberger wrote.

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"The responsibility of the public editor — to serve as the reader’s representative — has outgrown that one office. Our business requires that we must all seek to hold ourselves accountable to our readers. When our audience has questions or concerns, whether about current events or our coverage decisions, we must answer them ourselves," the memo continues.

To that end, we have decided to eliminate the position of the public editor, while introducing several new reader-focused efforts."

The Times says it will depend on an expanded commenting platform in the public editor's place.

"We are dramatically expanding our commenting platform," writes Sulzberger. "Currently, we open only 10 percent of our articles to reader comments. Soon, we will open up most of our articles to reader comments.

"This expansion, made possible by a collaboration with Google, marks a sea change in our ability to serve our readers, to hear from them, and to respond to them."

Sulzberger also says the Times is open to hearing "thoughtful criticism" from other news outlets.

"It’s also worth noting that we welcome thoughtful criticism from our peers at other news outlets," he wrote. "Fortunately, there is no shortage of those independent critiques."

The Times had six public editors in the less than 14 years since the position was created, with many of them appointed to fixed terms meant to guarantee their independence.

"Changes like these offer the strongest paths towards meaningfully engaging with our growing audience of loyal readers, which rightfully demands more of us than ever before. We are up to the challenge," Sulzberger concludes.