NY Times Public Editor Begins

Daniel Okrent took to the cockpit in his (and the paper’s) new position of Public Editor at the New York Times on December 1. He begins with rhetorical flourish:

Reporters and editors (the thickness of their skin measurable in microns, the length of their memories in elephant years) will resent the public second-guessing. The people who run the newspaper may find themselves wondering how they might get away with firing me before my 18-month term is up. Too many combatants in the culture wars, loath to tolerate interpretations other than their own, will dismiss what I say except when it serves their ideological interests.

But those are their problems, not mine. My only concern in this adventure is dispassionate evaluation; my only colleagues are readers who turn to The Times for their news, expect it to be fair, honest and complete, and are willing to trust another such reader — me — as their surrogate.

Okrent’s even willing to provide some “full disclosure,” which, as Jeff Jarvis says, is something more journalists should emulate:

By upbringing and habit, I’m a registered Democrat, but notably to the right of my fellow Democrats on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. When you turn to the paper’s designated opinion pages tomorrow, draw a line from The Times’s editorials on the left side to William Safire’s column over on the right: you could place me just about at the halfway point. But on some issues I veer from the noncommittal middle. I’m an absolutist on free trade and free speech, and a supporter of gay rights and abortion rights who thinks that the late Cardinal John O’Connor was a great man. I believe it’s unbecoming for the well off to whine about high taxes, and inconsistent for those who advocate human rights to oppose all American military action. I’d rather spend my weekends exterminating rats in the tunnels below Penn Station than read a book by either Bill O’Reilly or Michael Moore. I go to a lot of concerts. I hardly ever go to the movies. I’ve hated the Yankees since I was 6.

Yankee fan or not, Okrent is a welcome – and long overdue – presence on the Times’ staff. His introductory piece is important, so you’re encouraged to read it in its entirety here.

You can reach Daniel Okrent at: public@nytimes
And telephone messages are taken at: (212) 556-7652