New NYT public editor brings experience, online savvy

Margaret M. Sullivan is looking forward to having "an ongoing conversation with readers" both in print and online

On Monday, The New York Times announced that its search for a new public editor had ended with the appointment of Margaret M. Sullivan, editor and vice president of the Buffalo News. She’ll take over for Arthur Brisbane on September 1. Sullivan spoke with CJR about what she hopes to bring to position (hint: It begins with “d” and rhymes with “figital”) and how her Twitter following has increased since the announcement.

How did you get the job? Did the Times reach out to you or vice versa?

I’m happy to say there was mutual interest. I made an overture, and I found out that they were already considering me, so it worked out well that way.

You’ve been a journalist for 32 years. What kind of experience will you bring to this position?

It’s a big change in the sense that I’ve been leading a large newsroom for the past 13 years, and now I’m essentially going into a writing position. I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve enjoyed and felt it was an incredible privilege being the editor of my hometown paper, but I’m really ready for and very excited about the chance to take on what I think just clearly is a unique position in American journalism—the public editor of The New York Times. You know, certainly, all of the experience I’ve had—as a reporter, as a columnist, as editor of the paper and most recently as a blogger—I bring with me. And I think that’s part of why it’s such a good fit.

How will all that experience come into play as the new public editor?

What people have seen of the public editor’s role so far has been an every-other-week column. And while Arthur Brisbane has blogged a little bit, that hasn’t been a focus for him. [I plan] to move the position much more strongly into the digital world. We’re talking about an ongoing conversation with readers about all the issues that come up at the Times. So I would see the blog being a place to aggregate and curate conversation and criticism and discussion about the Times in one place and have plenty of back-and-forth and response, and have it happen in real time.

I noticed you’ve tried to incorporate live chats into your blog at the Buffalo News. Is that something you’re planning to bring to the Times?

We haven’t talked specifically about live chats, but we’ve certainly talked about using all the multimedia and all the digital tools. So I think you can look toward that. But I should say that the Times and I both think it’s important to continue the print column as well. So I intend to and will be writing an every-other-week column. But in between, you’ll see lots of blogging.

You should have plenty to cover on all those media. We’ve seen a lot of questionable ethics in journalism recently—fake bylines, plagiarism charges, incorrect relaying of Supreme Court decisions.

It’s a really critical time for journalism. We are at a tricky place, and I think that the relationship between readers and the news organization is extremely important—that sense of confidence, of credibility, of being transparent with readers, of showing them what’s behind the curtain.

Your Twitter following has increased by leaps and bounds today.

[Laughs] Just today! With no effort whatsoever!

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Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison. Tags: , ,