Monday, April 23, 2007

What is the true function of a public editor?

The New York Times says he is the "readers' representative". How can that be? Readers have no role in his selection; they have no voice in deciding what issues he tackles. These ombudsmen rarely press the paper hard on issues that inflame some segments of the readership.

They do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time justifying and explaining the newspaper's actions. Calame devotes nearly half of his latest column to the (weak) rationalizations offered by NYT editors for an article that should be an embarrassment to everyone associated with it.

Maybe an ombudsman is just a fig leaf? Maybe his role is to obscure journalistic failures in the hope that readers will not see their full enormity.

Maybe they are supposed to comfort the editors. A few words of soft criticism now and then and the paper never has to worry about what readers are really thinking and saying.

You have to wonder what utility a public editor provides to astute readers. It took Calame eight months to address the Duff Wilson article. More thorough and more accurate assessments of the piece were on the internet in a matter of days.

UPDATE: Commenter AMac nails it over at KC Johnson's blog:
I fail to see why a "Public Editor" should be seen as anything other than a Public Relations employee. They'll sometimes nip the hand that feeds them for a spelling error, but forthright prose about their employers' shortcomings would lead to cold shoulders at the Christmas party, and a career dead-end.

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