Meet your new public editors

Last week at Columbia, CJR hosted more than three dozen public editors from around the world, gathered together for their annual meeting. Brazil, India, Australia, Denmark, Estonia, and South Africa were among the nations represented. And the official delegation from the United States? It consisted of one person, Elizabeth Jensen, from NPR, the last remaining full-time public editor or ombudsman at a major news outlet in America.

And we wonder why trust in the US media remains a problem. Public editors and ombudsmen have historically stood as critical advocates for consumers of news, identifying blind spots the outlets can’t see themselves and operating as collectors of critical opinion when decisions go awry. The flameout of public editors in the US, which reached a point of despair in 2017, when The New York Times sent its last public editor packing, is the most visible sign of the growing distance between news organizations and the people they serve. As attacks on the media have increased under the presidency of Donald Trump, the response of newsrooms has, more often than not, been to form a defensive huddle.

That stance is particularly dangerous now, as the nation braces for another presidential election, one that is almost certain to be more partisan, more vicious, and more focused on the perceived failings of the press than any other in the history of the country. It’s a bad time for newsrooms to retreat from their readers.

I was heartened last week that the public editors group, the Organization of News Ombudsmen and Standards Editors, treated CJR as one of its own, a public editor for journalism. Now we’ve decided to take that part of our job a step further.

CJR is pleased to announce the appointment of four new public editors, for The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC. As watchdogs for the biggest news organizations in the country, they’ll be ready to call out mistakes, observe bad habits, and give praise where it’s due. Most importantly, these public editors will engage with readers and viewers, bridging a critical gap.

The team we’ve assembled is formidable:

  • Our public editor of The New York Times is Gabriel Snyder, formerly an editor at The New Republic, The Atlantic, and Gawker, and the author of a 2017 Wired cover story about the Times.
  • The public editor of The Washington Post is Ana Marie Cox, the founding editor of Wonkette, who has written for GQ, The Daily Beast, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications
  • MSNBC’s public editor is Maria Bustillos, the editor in chief of Popula, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Guardian
  • CNN’s public editor is Emily Tamkin, a freelance reporter based in Washington, who previously reported on foreign affairs for BuzzFeed News and Foreign Policy, and whose work has appeared in Politico, Slate, and The Washington Post, among other publications.
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We’re excited about what’s to come. As each editor gets to work, they’ll let you know how to be in touch. In the meantime, email us with questions, tips, or concerns at editors@CJR.org

I’m convinced that we are about to enter one of the most important chapters in the history of American journalism. We have to get it right.

RELATED: Answering your questions about CJR’s new public editors

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Kyle Pope is the editor in chief and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review.