New York Times Public Editor Wins Social Media

Looks like The New York Times has finally decided to place both feet firmly in the 21st century.

The “paper of record” suffered a few days of bad PR this week thanks to a “walk out” organized by 375 unionized employees, but the newest member of the Times management team has received excellent marks: recently appointed public editor Margaret Sullivan.

How did she win media plaudits? By being bold: A perfect example may be the public smackdown she issued to “Talk” writer Andrew Goldman today for repeatedly asking female interview subjects whether they ever used sex to advance their careers.

As New York Magazine’s Joe Coscarelli notes, Sullivan’s predecessor Arthur Brisbane hesitated to join the digital world, arguing in an exit interview that the PE job “is not a conversation”. But his replacement clearly sees things in a different light. She posts on her “Public Editor’s Journal” blog nearly every day, encouraging debates over controversial issues like Jack Welch’s nutty number-fudging conspiracy theories and the Times’ continued use of the term “illegal immigrant” in the face of protests by advocacy groups and activists.

Her active Twitter feed also clearly shows that she’s following and interacting with many of her fellow media pros, appealing to the “geek squad” in what looks like a low-key effort to modernize the newspaper’s still-stuffy brand. Here’s Sullivan describing her media habits in an excellent “What I Read” interview with The Atlantic Wire, for example.

Most impressively, she’s proven that she’s not afraid of criticism by collecting varied responses to the first days of her tenure and writing that “it’s important to me that this effort be a two-way street…a continuing conversation about journalism.”

What do we think? Have you noticed Sullivan’s work? Will her influence help revitalize the world’s best-known newspaper brand?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.