The New York Times‘ public editor, Elizabeth Spayd, is leaving Friday and her position, one created to strengthen the paper's focus on accountability following a plagiarism scandal, will be eliminated.
Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wrote in a memo to staff on Wednesday that "our 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."
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The memo came shortly after the Huffington Post first reported the Times‘ decision to eliminate the public editor role.
The Times' advertisements have recently featured anti-Donald Trump appeals, such as "The truth is alternative facts are lies" juxtaposed with an image of Kellyanne Conway, the president's counselor. The paper has seen record numbers of new subscriptions, and now it is asking those subscribers to keep them accountable.
"We have created a Reader Center led by Hanna Ingber, a senior editor, who will work with Phil [Corbett, masthead editor] and many others to make our report ever more transparent and our journalists more responsive," Sulzberger wrote.
The Times‘ publisher argued that the public editor's job can no longer be confined to one office and must be taken on by the entire staff—along with vigilant readers.
"The responsibility of the public editor—to serve as the reader's representative—has outgrown that one office," Sulzberger said. "Our business requires that we must all seek to hold ourselves accountable to our readers. When our audience has questions or concerns, whether about current events or our coverage decisions, we must answer them ourselves."
The public editor position was created in 2003 after former Times reporter Jayson Blair fabricated and plagiarized stories.
Now that readers can function as a watchdog, Sulzberger said, "Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office."
The position of public editor or ombudsman serves as a newspaper's in-house watchdog for inaccuracies and bias, but it has been getting phased out nationwide. The Washington Post removed its ombudsman in 2013 when it switched to having a "reader representative" who can "answer questions and respond to complaints." The Times appears to be following a similar path.
This move comes amid a downsizing of the Times‘ editorial staff, with the paper offering buyouts to editors.
"Our goal is to significantly shift the balance of editors to reporters," top editors said in a memo about the buyouts.
Washington Free Beacon ombudsman Biff Diddle was not available for comment on the Times‘ latest changes.