By: E&P Staff
Pulitzer winner Clark Hoyt, The New York Times’ public editor, had his last word in the position on Friday with a column marking the end of his extended contract with the Gray Lady.
Hoyt wrote, “I tried hard to be responsible with the power” of taking the Times to task when he felt the paper of record wasn’t living up to its potential. In his time as public editor, the prize-winning former Knight Ridder Washington editor railed against editorializing in news stories and the overuse of anonymous sources, among other topics.
“For the past three years, my assignment has been to try to help this newspaper live up to its own high journalistic standards as it covered a historic presidential election, two wars, the Great Recession, violence in the Middle East and more,” Hoyt wrote. “But, in truth, I have sometimes felt less like a keeper of the flame and more like an internal affairs cop.”
The Times, he wrote, “is imperfect. As in any human institution, the 1,150 people in the newsroom make mistakes. But they get much, much more right than wrong.”
Hoyt notes that on first day on the job, Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. “sat opposite me in a little room off his office, clapped his hands on his knees and said with a laugh: ‘Well, you’re here. You must be dumber than you look.’”
“Times journalists have been astonishingly candid, even when facing painful questions any of us would want to duck. Of course, journalists don’t relish being criticized in public any more than anyone else,” he wrote. One example: photo editor Steve Berman, one of the Times editors who didn’t check the facts in the obit of a photographer who for years had falsely claimed that he took an iconic picture of John F. Kennedy Jr.
“After a column pointing out all the missed warning signs, Berman came to thank me,” Hoyt wrote. “He said he believed in accountability and had learned from the experience. I was surprised but came to know that I should not have been.”
Hoyt was the Times’ third public editor in seven years, following Daniel Okrent and Byron Calame, respectively. His original contract was for two years, but was extended to three.