The job of the public editor is to supervise the implementation of proper journalism ethics at a newspaper, and to identify and examine critical errors or omissions, and to act as a liaison to the public. They do this primarily through a regular feature on a newspaper's editorial page. Because public editors are generally employees of the very newspaper they're criticizing, it may appear as though there is a possibility for bias. However, a newspaper with a high standard of ethics would not fire a public editor for a criticism of the paper; the act would contradict the purpose of the position and would itself be a very likely cause for public concern.
Many major newspapers in the U.S. use the public editor column as the voice for their ombudsman, though this is not always so. Public editor columns cover a broader scope of issues and do not have an accreditation process, while in order to qualify as an ombudsman of any standing one must be a member of the Organisation of News Ombudsmen.
The first newspaper to appoint an ombudsman was Tokyo's Asahi Shimbun in 1922; the first American newspapers to appoint a Public Editor were the Louisville Courier-Journal and Louisville Times in 1967.
At The New York Times, the position was created in response to the Jayson Blair scandal. The Times' first public editor was Daniel Okrent, who held the position from December 2003 through May 2005. Okrent's successor was Byron Calame, who was followed by Clark Hoyt, who held the position for three years. In August 2010, Arthur S. Brisbane assumed the post and held it until 2012, when Margaret M. Sullivan took the position. in April, 2016, Sullivan left the position to become a media columnist at the Washington Post; her last column for the Times was dated April 16. She was replaced by Elizabeth Spayd in July 2016.
- Mike Ananny, "It’s time to reimagine the role of a public editor, starting at The New York Times," Nieman Lab, March 17, 2016, Neiman Foundation at Harvard, URL=http://www.niemanlab.org/2016/03/mike-ananny-its-time-to-reimagine-the-role-of-a-public-editor-starting-at-the-new-york-times/
- Vega, Tanzina (16 July 2012). "Times Names Buffalo News Editor as Its New Public Editor". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
- Margaret Sullivan, "Public Editor No. 5 Is Yesterday’s News," The New York Times, April 16, 2016, URL=http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/public-editor/margaret-sullivan-new-york-times-public-editor.html
- Sydney Ember, "New York Times Names Elizabeth Spayd Its 6th Public Editor", The New York Times, May 18, 2016, URL=http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/business/media/new-york-times-names-elizabeth-spayd-its-6th-public-editor.html