The Last NYT Public Editor?
My Sunday column quoted Post publisher Katharine Weymouth as saying she remains committed to having an independent ombudsman, even at a time when the newspaper is losing money and the staff is being further depleted by the fourth round of buyouts since 2003.
There also has been keen interest in whether the New York Times will replace my friend and colleague Clark Hoyt when his term as that newspaper's "public editor" expires in mid-2010. (Mine runs to early 2011.) Hoyt is the third person to serve as Times public editor; the first was named in 2003. The Post has had 14 ombudsmen since 1970.
In an online chat on nytimes.com earlier this year, Times executive editor Bill Keller was asked whether there will be a successor to Hoyt.
“Whether we have a fourth and a fifth and a sixth public editor is a question we'll answer when the time comes,” he said. “The idea of a public editor has never won universal acclamation in the newsroom. There are still some who believe we have enough independent checks in the legion of self-appointed press critics without paying one of our own. There are still some who think a public editor does more to undermine our credibility, by poking small holes in important stories, than to shore it up.
“The other day in a meeting of senior editors I asked for an informal show of hands on the question of continuing the role of public editor. The room was about evenly divided. I'm keeping my own hand down until 2010."
Like The Post, the Times is facing financial challenges. So with that in mind, I e-mailed Keller last week and posed this question: "If the current adverse financial conditions exist for the Times in mid-2010, will the newspaper still be committed to a public editor?"
His response: "I like to think my recommendation to the publisher will be based on the merits -- the same way we decide whether to replace the Tokyo correspondent or a Pentagon reporter -- with money a secondary, even subliminal consideration.
"But I can imagine the possibility that the economic situation would loom larger than that. And, of course, if I come down on the side of those who think we no longer need a public editor, I will throw in the savings as a reinforcing argument."
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