The new public editor of The New York Times, Elizabeth Spayd, is a Colorado State University graduate and former Collegian editor.
As the public editor of The New York Times, Spayd acts as an ombudsman — a person who investigates complaints — for the paper.
“It’s looking at the journalism that the New York Times produces every day and trying to evaluate it for good journalistic standards and good ethics,” Spayd said. “I look at decisions that have been made or stories that have been done, or photos that have been run, headlines that have been written, and how well The New York Times doing.”
Though she works for The New York Times, and makes sure it stays ethical, she does not have any power over what is published in the paper.
“Because I have a job independent of the newsroom, I report up to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., whose family owns the New York Times. So, I don’t report in to the newsroom, and as a result I don’t know about things before they are published. I’m not a part of that decision making,” she said.
Instead, Spayd responds to articles that have gotten a lot of responses, and addresses situations after the fact. In her role, she writes articles in response to articles that The New York Times has produced, such as whether or not the New York Times should have published information it knew about FBI investigations into Donald Trump’s organizations prior to the election.
Spayd said one of her articles that caught a lot of attention last month covered a lack of diversity in the newsroom.
She believes the biggest culprit behind society’s growing distrust of the media is its segmentation.
“There’s so many more media outlets that you can go to to get your news and the more that that happens, the more people start to be segmented by their own ideology. If you’re Fox News, and the vast majority of the people that are tuning in are mostly conservative; they’re not going to tend to trust the rest of the media,” she said.
“In many cases, I think that viewership is right, that a lot of the media is liberal.”
Besides ideologies, Spayd said there are other differences between news organizations.
“There are so many kinds of news sites, and there’s some that take their work very seriously, and their standards very seriously, like The New York Times and the Washington Post, and there are others that don’t do that, that freely publish a lot of things,” Spayd said. “I think in the public’s mind, those things get blurred and it drags down everybody.”
To restore that lost trust, Spayd said that the media should branch out more and cover people that it normally glosses over.
“They need to cover the people that don’t live on the coast. I think The New York Times gets that they weren’t doing that enough, and they’ve sort of doubled down on trying to do more of that. I think it’s also just going out to red states, and… writing about them in a way that they see their lives reflected, and their views.”
As an alumna of Colorado State University, and of the Collegian, Spayd had lots of praise for the organization, saying it was valuable for her career.
“When you’re graduating, people want to see your clips, they want to see your work,” she said.
Spayd began as a general reporter, but then found her beat to prepare herself for working for a big paper.
“I was a general reporter at first, and then I really started focusing on city politics in Fort Collins, because I felt like that was going to most reflect what a real job was like… I think that really helped me, definitely helped me get a job.”
Spayd has a regular “Friday Mailbag” column in The New York Times every week, and also writes anywhere from one to three pieces a week in response to other articles that The New York Times publishes.
Collegian reporter Stuart Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @notstuartsmith.