Posts Tagged ‘public editor’


Investing in trust

The New York Times needs to consider the need for the role it abolished earlier this year – the Public Editor. (Photo: Jleon/Wikimedia Commons/CC)

“It’s part of the DNA here. If there is some kind of mess-up, I go into the newsroom and ask what happened, talk to editors and complaintants and come to an assessment about what we need to do. It’s so ingrained here people know they need to talk to me.”

That was how Kathy English, the public editor for the Toronto Star in Canada, summed up the role of the position, in an interview earlier this year with the Columbia Journalism Review. The conversation came weeks after The New York Times terminated its public editor role in favor of a Reader Center.

The Times established their public editor post in 2003 after a plagiarism scandal surrounding one of its reporters, Jayson Blair. In a piece in the Star shortly thereafter, English said that while the position itself may not resolve all of the questions of public trust, it is crucial that a representative of the reader be in the newsroom.

“I continue to see the benefit in readers having an individual, independent of the newsroom, who is empowered by the organization to assess the legitimacy of readers’ complaints, seek answers for readers and hold journalists to account for lapses in standards,” English wrote.

Indeed, my colleague, SPJ Ethics Committee chair Andrew Seaman, wrote earlier this year that the public editor serves an important role that the culture of the internet cannot duplicate, especially within the Times. (For the record, I serve as a member of SPJ’s Ethics and Freedom of Information Committees.)

“The public editor sent a message to people that the paper took their questions seriously and that there was an independent arbiter who heard their concerns,” Seaman wrote. “In a time when trust in the press is still low, that message is an invaluable one to communicate.”

SPJ’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists and news organizations to be accountable and transparent for their work and for their actions, and to explain those decisions to the public.

Not many news organizations have people in the role of public editor, or ombudsman. Two notable examples are Elizabeth Jensen at NPR and Madhulika Sikka at PBS, and though the culture of the internet and social media has had an impact on how audiences consume journalism and how they respond to it, it does not serve as a reason to scrap the role and concept of public editors altogether.

With the scandals surrounding prominent male journalists and media personalities this past year, as well as continued questions about trust in light of an error at ABC News and rampant criticism from the Trump administration, public editors’ roles as ambassadors for readers are quintessential. They are integral to the foundation of the relationship between audiences and news organizations, and maintaining trust.

The Times was right to create the Public Editor position 14 years ago, and were wrong to remove it 14 years later. In 2018, it is time the Times (and for that matter, other news organizations) consider the need for a Public Editor – and if maintaining trust and being accountable outweighs long-term costs.

I’ll give you a hint. It does.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

A transparent Facebook

Facebook should appoint a public editor for the interests of not just news organizations, but audiences. (Photo: Pixabay)

Facebook should appoint a public editor for the interests of not just news organizations, but audiences. (Photo: Pixabay)

It has become a common theme for Facebook in the past few weeks. Another day comes, and with it comes another change to its algorithm.

The most recent change came this week, when the social network announced its plans to combat clickbait by examining headlines of articles. Some types of headlines would be considered clickbait, including, according to a blog post on its corporate web site, those headlines that are misleading or withhold specific aspects of information.

Quoted in The New York Times, Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice president for product management, which oversees the News Feed, said the change was made with users’ interests in mind.

“We want publishers to post content that people care about, and we think people care about headlines that are much more straightforward,” Mosseri said.

This had raised some concerns with publishers, as well as additional concerns that they did not have insight into the decision making behind the algorithm changes, according to the Times report.

Mosseri said that he met regularly with publishers to discuss such changes, and that Facebook would be more transparent about its changes. Indeed, while transparency is all well and good, more needs to be done for a platform that has a significant influence in the relationship between consumer and news organization.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post for this blog advocating a public editor post be created within Facebook, a post that would, according to New York based journalism professor Jeff Jarvis, not edit per se, but be a voice for the public. I renew that advocacy with this post.

A creation of such a role (or perhaps multiple roles), similar to what is being done at organizations like the Times and at The Guardian, would ensure Facebook be truly transparent.

Indeed, the SPJ Code of Ethics, where under the section “Be Accountable and Transparent,” calls for a conversation about news coverage, content and journalistic practices. Even though Facebook itself is not a conventional media company, the rule should apply to them, considering the influence it has on the dissemination of information to users, as well as engagement strategies in various newsrooms.

As such, a creation of a public editor role would, in my view, support this call, and allow Facebook to be honest with not just its audience, but publishers as well, and allow for a full conversation about what role the social network can have in the future of this industry. With this role, we can understand the algorithm changes better, have our say on the changes, and help make the algorithm beneficial for the people who we serve — our audience.

While the same can be said for Twitter, Google and other platforms, having Facebook create a public editor role would be significant in the world of social media journalism, and perhaps others can follow their lead.

The idea and the call is there. The decision on whether a public editor role should be created, however, is solely in Mark Zuckerberg’s court.

Your move, Facebook.

Editor’s note: This post was amended at 4:04pm CT on August 7 to add that The Guardian also has the post of a global readers editor.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Why Facebook needs a public editor

Mark Zuckerberg should hire a public editor for Facebook to benefit journalism's relationship with the platform. (Photo: b_d_solis/Flickr)

Mark Zuckerberg should hire a public editor for Facebook to benefit journalism’s relationship with the platform. (Photo: b_d_solis/Flickr)

It’s been a wild week for Facebook. The social network came under criticism this week for allegedly suppressing content that advocates Conservative policies when it comes to the content that appears on its Trending Topics list.

It also prompted a letter to the social network from John Thune, the Republican senator from South Dakota, with the senator saying if the bias were true, it was a violation of the values of an open internet.

The questions surrounding the allegations come as Facebook’s relationship with journalism continues to evolve. Facebook, according to a report from NPR, says it will be reviewing its practices and will be responding to the senator.

The social network has become one of the most quintessential platforms for dissemination of news, and a platform that news organizations have used to inform and engage audiences. Users flock to social media for news and information when they are on the go as well as to engage in conversations, which have become a signature of journalism in the 21st century.

The letter comes as documents from Facebook released to The Guardian newspaper in Britain shows guidelines similar to that of a traditional news organization, where editors are relied upon to exercise journalistic values in addition to the algorithms that sort the content for each user.

Yet as the questions continue, and as Facebook and other social platforms continue to be at the intersection of journalism for audiences, it perhaps could be time for Facebook to consider hiring public editors. They would, as Jeff Jarvis suggested in a post yesterday on Medium, not edit content, but be an advocate for the public. The idea also got an endorsement from Kelly McBride at the Poynter Institute, and it gets my endorsement too.

The rule however should not apply to just Facebook. Twitter, Google, Snapchat and others should also look into hiring public editors. These editors would be in a unique position to give insight on the core components of the interaction between users and these platforms, including the algorithms that shape these results.

Most importantly, these editors would help us better understand journalism’s relationship with these platforms, and how they can work better. It would be imperative for these public editors to be in place, and the quicker they are in place, the better the relationship will be for not just those who develop and curate this content, but for those who social networks, journalists and news organizations ultimately serve — the audience.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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