Media and Democracy Project Asks the New York Times to Reinstate Public Editor Position
With fascism knocking at the door, our major press institutions must set the standard for journalism ethics.
The New York Times created its now defunct Public Editor position in 2003, in response to widespread criticism of its irresponsible Iraq War reporting. In general, a public editor’s newsroom role is “to be responsible for supervising the implementation of proper journalism ethics at that publication. These responsibilities include identifying and examining critical errors or omissions and acting as a liaison to the public.”
The Times eliminated the position fourteen years later, in 2017, claiming the internet had evolved so much that they no longer required an in-house source of accountability. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. explained that the role was no longer necessary because the Times’ “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.” The Times also created another avenue for feedback, making it possible to add public comment to articles in their Reader Center.
But since 2017, social media platforms have deteriorated into chaos and trolling. Platforms like Twitter (X) provide far fewer meaningful opportunities for feedback and accountability than the Times leadership pretends. To this day the Reader Center does not allow commenting on all articles, and the route to get there is not intuitive.
At a time when journalistic integrity is needed more than ever, we are asking the New York Times to reinstate the position of Public Editor.
When the position was eliminated, Margaret Sullivan, a former Public Editor at the Times, tweeted, “The one thing an ombuds or public editor can almost always do is hold feet to the fire, and get a real answer out of management. The role, by definition, is a burr under the saddle for the powers that be.”
In a commentary for Vox, Dara Lind added, “Editors like Arthur Sulzberger of the Times and Marty Baron of the Post are implying that the obligation to listen to readers should fall directly to journalists…But “accountability” means more than “accountability to readers.” It means accountability to truth and journalistic ethics, integrity and professionalism.”
The New York Times has over 10 million subscribers. By bringing back an independent Public Editor position they can uplift proper journalism ethics, reinvigorate meaningful, responsive communications with subscribers, and reset the news industry standard.
The Media and Democracy Project believes a well-informed citizenry is the foundation of a democratic society. We advocate for media reform, and we empower people with tools to take meaningful action. The public is owed transparent, contextual, and accurate information in order to more fully participate in the self-governance that impacts our everyday lives. On January 21st, we took action based on our values and sent a letter to the New York Times leadership requesting they reinstate their Public Editor position. Read the letter below.
Please support our request by contacting the New York Times about this matter and/or sharing our effort on social media.
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