Will the NYT drop the public editor position?

Michael Calderone at the New York Observer reports that the NYT is reconsidering whether they should have a public editor for their newspaper:

The New York Times will soon decide whether it will do away with its public editor.

The two-year term of the current public editor, Byron (Barney) Calame, will conclude in May. There may, or may not, be another.

“Over the next couple of months, as Barney’s term enters the home stretch, I’ll be taking soundings from the staff, talking it over with the masthead, and consulting with Arthur” meaning publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., wrote Bill Keller, The Times’ executive editor, in an e-mail to The Observer.

Mr. Calame is the paper’s second public editor since Mr. Keller announced the job on his first day as executive editor in July 2003.

Mr. Keller wrote in his e-mail that “some of my colleagues believe the greater accessibility afforded by features like ‘Talk to the Newsroom’ has diminished the need for an autonomous ombudsman, or at least has opened the way for a somewhat different definition of the job.”

Mr. Keller added that “the creation of a public editor has helped the paper immensely in a period when the credibility of the media generally has been under assault.” The position at The Times was created in the wake of the Jayson Blair debacle that emerged in 2003.

When reached by phone on Dec. 29, Mr. Calame said he had heard the news. His assistant, Joseph Plambeck, had attended an in-house Q&A on Dec. 15, at which Mr. Keller expressed the idea.

“I have been critical of the newsroom” Mr. Calame said. “I’ve also praised the newsroom, and I think that Bill Keller has been—quite obviously—unhappy with some of the things I’ve written.”

“It seems to me that the high degree of independence that has been given to the public editor at The New York Times makes it a situation that inevitably causes criticism” Mr. Calame said.

He added: “So it is not a surprise to me that The New York Times—that Bill Keller, the executive editor, and Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher—would want to sit down and think about whether they want to have a public editor.”

Lawhawk writes:

That the Times would now consider eliminating the public editor position strikes me as bad timing, though the paper notes that with the creation of new blogs within the paper’s online edition that feedback with readers is better.

The problem is that the paper still refuses to deal with fixing the process of correcting its reporting when it has been shown to be wrong. The paper is arrogant in its refusal to correct the record of this most recent error-filled article, and that doesn’t bode well for the so-called “paper of record.”

Yep, and arrogant for considering the possibility of eliminating the public editor position, as if they didn’t need one.

Creating the public editor position is one of the few things the NYT has gotten right in their response to strong criticisms about the MSM from both the right and left. For their sakes, Pinch and Keller would do well to leave the position in place.

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