December 19, 2015

Margaret Sullivan will conclude her tenure as public editor of The New York Times when her four-year contract expires in eight months, she told Poynter today.

“Yes, I am headed into the home stretch of my four-year term,” she said in an email. “The role really requires an outsider’s perspective, so I’ve thought all along that having a clear time limit serves The Times and its readers best.”

Editors at The New York Times have “already begun considering who should replace her,” according to POLITICO Media, which first reported Sullivan’s pending departure.

Sullivan signed a four-year contract in 2012 to replace Art Brisbane as public editor, the paper’s in-house ombudsman. The contract came with the possibility of extending her tenure to six years, an option Sullivan has opted not to exercise.

Most public editors at The New York Times have occupied the job for two years or less. An exception is Clark Hoyt, who held the job from 2007 to 2010.

Sullivan normally eschews press, preferring to let the criticism on her blog speak for itself. But she offered this wry reflection on the conclusion of her tenure in a rare interview with Longform’s Max Linsky this summer:

Jill Abramson said to me early on, ‘What will happen here is you’ll stick around and eventually you’ll alienate everybody, and then no one will be talking to you, and you’ll have to leave.’ I’m about three-quarters of the way there.

Sullivan has certainly pulled no punches since taking the public editor’s job. She has been critical of several high-profile stories from The New York Times, including the paper’s exposé on New York nail salons, its deep-dive into Amazon’s workplace culture and its coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email imbroglio.

For New York Times kremlinologists, Sullivan’s blog has also proved to be a clearinghouse of news about the inner workings of The Times. In recent months, she has reported word about changes to the Times’ comments section, quoted Maureen Dowd in defense of her news-breaking column about Vice President Joe Biden and shed light on the paper’s new fact-checking practices.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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