Jason Blair

Disturbance in the Journalism Force? New York Times spikes its public-editor post

Disturbance in the Journalism Force? New York Times spikes its public-editor post

If you are a journalist or a news consumer who is concerned about the survival of old-school reporting and editing in this troubled day and age, then you probably felt a disturbance yesterday in what could be called the Journalism Force.

When I say "old-school journalism," I am referring to what textbooks often call the "American model of the press," which stresses that journalists should strive to honor standards of accuracy, fairness and balance when covering the news. The key: When reporting on hot-button issues, journalists should strive to treat people on all sides of these debates with respect.

This classically liberal approach to news emerged, and evolved, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The goal was to produce news that was as independent as possible, thus exposing readers to genuine diversity. Citizens could then make up their own minds.

An older, advocacy model built on clear editorial biases -- often called the "European model" -- has remained a crucial part of modern journalism, primarily in magazines and journals of opinion (think The Nation, National Review, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard).

So what happened yesterday? Here is the top of the Associated Press report:

NEW YORK -- The New York Times is ditching its public editor position, created in 2003 as the paper sought to restore its credibility with readers after a plagiarism scandal.
Publisher Arthur Sulzberger wrote in a memo Wednesday that the public editor's role "has outgrown that one office" and that the paper is instead creating a "reader center" to interact with the public and will allow more commenting on stories. The paper's current public editor, Liz Spayd, will leave Friday.
Margaret Sullivan, the well-regarded former Times public editor, now a media columnist at the Washington Post, tweeted that she was not surprised that the Times dropped the role, which she characterized as a "a burr under the saddle for the powers that be" and capable of holding managers' "feet to the fire."

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