New York Times replaces public editor with ‘modern watchdog’ – social media

‘Our responsibility is to empower those watchdogs’ – Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Picture: Todd Heisler/The New York Times.

The New York Times is eliminating the position of public editor – an independent role which held the paper’s journalism to account – in favour of social media and online readers. In a memo, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, said: “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. Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office.”

Yesterday, the Times announced the creation of a ‘reader centre‘, “to capitalise on our readers’s knowledge and experience, using their voices to make our journalism even better. Our readers are among our greatest strengths, helping us to distinguish ourselves from all of our competitors”. The move came ahead of news today of the end of the public editor job and a separate announcement that newsroom employees will be offered payments to leave the paper, “aiming to reduce layers of editing and requiring more of the editors who remain”, according to a report on

In a memo to the newsroom, Dean Baquet, the executive editor, and Joseph Kahn, the managing editor, said the current system of “backfielders” and copy editors — two separate groups who have different tasks before a story is published — would be replaced with a single group of editors who would be responsible for all aspects of a story. Another editor would be “looking over their shoulders before publication.”

“Our goal is to significantly shift the balance of editors to reporters at The Times, giving us more on-the-ground journalists developing original work than ever before,” they said in the memo. The savings will be would be used to hire as many as 100 more journalists. The report said that the offer comes as the Times tries to transform from a legacy print operation to a more digitally focused newsroom. Reducing the layers of editing was one of the primary recommendations in an internal study issued in January, called the “2020 Report,” that serves as a blueprint for that transformation.

Earlier this month, the Times Company reported strong digital growth, including a 19% gain in digital advertising revenue. But those gains were not enough to offset an ongoing, industrywide decline in print advertising, which has historically been the main revenue source for newspaper companies. Print advertising at the Times fell 18% in the most recent quarter, causing an overall advertising revenue decline of 7%.

The company has increasingly relied on subscription revenue, which spiked as Americans closely followed the United States presidential election in November and the beginning of President Trump’s term. The Times added 308,000 net digital-only subscribers in the most recent quarter, the most of any quarter in its history, leading to an 11 percent increase in circulation revenue. It was the second consecutive quarter of record-breaking subscriber growth, with the last three months of 2016 bringing 276,000 new digital-only subscriptions, more than the additions of 2013 and 2014 combined. The Times now has more than 2.2m digital-only subscribers.