Weeks after The New York Times’s public editor, Liz Spayd, criticized the newspaper over a highly contentious op-ed written by imprisoned Palestinian arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti, her position has been eliminated.
Spayd’s job as public editor, also known as a reader representative or ombudsman, was to hold the organization’s management accountable for news judgments and get answers from its top executives. The position was created in 2003 following a plagiarism scandal at the newspaper.
The Times announced May 31 it is cutting Spayd’s position, citing that social media now serves as a “watchdog” for the newspaper. She was hired last July for a two-year term.
“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,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The Times, wrote in a memo to employees.
Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences and 40 additional years for killing five people, wrote an April 16 op-ed in which the newspaper omitted his crimes and terrorist organization membership. He used The Times as a platform to accuse Israel of conducting “mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners.”
The op-ed was roundly slammed across the political spectrum in Israel. Two days after the article was posted, Spayd criticized the newspaper’s op-ed department for its failure to list the crimes committed by Barghouti, writing that “failing to do so risks the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages.” The Times ran an editor’s note clarifying that it had “explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offense of which he was convicted.”
Many journalists expressed dismay with the The Times’s decision to cut the public editor position.
“The public editor is more important than ever as trust in the press remains low. It’s not about engagement, it’s about credibility,” tweeted Andrew Seaman, ethics chair for the Society of Professional Journalists.