For 14 years, a succession of accomplished journalists held “a job few envied but most people in journalism circles paid close attention to.” That job: public editor of The New York Times. In an excellent oral history for CJR, Andy Robinson spoke with the six people to hold the position, gathering honest, often blunt, recollections of their time in the arena.
Robinson traces the evolution of the position, from its establishment in 2003 following the Jayson Blair scandal that shook the Times’s newsroom and brought down its two top editors through its transformation in an age of blogs and, later, social media. In this way, it’s not just the story of how a position changed, but also how the media landscape has been transformed in the 21st century.
The Times, of course, eliminated the public editor job in May, part of a larger newsroom restructuring that shifted resources from editing to reporting. That decision sparked intense debate within journalism circles over whether the position had outlived its usefulness, and how outlets can best be held accountable.
Robinson’s story contains thoughtful responses to those questions and others, but anecdotal nuggets really bring life to the experience of holding the job. For example, Liz Spayd, the final public editor (and former editor and publisher of CJR), shared a story about Executive Editor Dean Baquet, who was particularly livid in response to a January column in which she argued that the paper had been “timid” in its reporting on connections between Russia and Trump. “He was like out of control. But I got his attention, and hopefully he’ll think twice about what he knows about a serious investigation into a presidential candidate and not writing about it. You know? Like, what the fuck?”
For Baquet’s response, and other stories of life in one of journalism’s most scrutinized jobs, check out the piece. Below, more on the public editor position, at the Times and around the industry.
- Not just the Times: CJR’s Jackie Spinner surveyed newspapers around the country, finding that public editors and ombudsmen positions are disappearing, even as distrust in the media grows.
- Judge for yourself: Earlier this month, Baquet answered questions in the Times’s new “Reader Center,” which seems to be something of a replacement for the public editor role.
- “It’s a shame”: That’s what Dan Okrent, the first person to hold the position, told me on the day the Times announced it was doing away with the public editor role.
Other notable stories
- Donald Trump’s lawyers are exploring the president’s power to pardon aides, members of his family, and even himself, according to a team of Washington Post reporters led by Carol Leonnig.
- It was 1995 all over again yesterday afternoon. News stations focused on O.J. Simpson sitting in a courtroom, waiting to learn his fate. After serving more than eight years for robbery, Simpson was granted parole. The Ringer’s Claire McNear writes on the familiar feeling, “We know how to watch O.J. Simpson; we’ve been doing it for a very long time.”
- Bloomberg’s Felix Gillette has a deep dive into the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest owner of broadcast TV stations. Gillette warns that Sinclair is positioned to build “a cohesive network that pushes a Fox News-esque worldview of outrage and conflict into individual cities, counties, and towns.”
- Shake-up at the White House: Mark Corallo, the spokesman for President Trump’s legal team, has resigned, while CBS’s Major Garrett reports that Marc Kasowitz is out as the president’s personal attorney.
- Axios’s Jonathan Swan broke the news that Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier, will be named White House communications director. The position has been vacant since Mike Dubke resigned in May.
- Great weekend reading from The New Yorker: Danielle Allen on her cousin’s attempt to rebuild his life after a felony conviction.