Knight Ridder Guy Who Bested Times Becomes Its Watchdog

Earlier this year, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller wondered publicly whether it was worth it to maintain an ombudsman position at the newspaper.

Barney Calame had the job at the time—which involves writing a column for the paper that reports on The Times’ own reporting, addressing criticisms from the outside—in a two-year appointment that followed the appointment of Daniel Okrent, the public editor hired after the Jayson Blair scandal forced the Times to take public steps to shore up its credibility.

Mr. Calame’s final column runs this weekend, and his contract expires at midnight on Tuesday, so just in time the Times has named Clark Hoyt to the position.

The 38-year-old Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) veteran is familiar to Mr. Calame.

“I’ve known him going back, I don’t know, eight or ten years, after I became deputy managing editor at the Journal,” said Mr. Calame.

Mr. Calame said that they have spoken in the past at journalism credibility conferences and once had a very public spat in the Romenesko letters section, regarding mine-safety stories in the competing newspapers.

So how does Mr. Calame—who has had a few public arguments with Mr. Keller, too—think his successor will handle the job?

“Clark is extremely well equipped to make his own decisions on how the job should be handled,” said Mr. Calame, shortly after the announcement. “I think that one of the most important things is to have a clear understanding with Bill Keller about how Bill sees the job, and how Bill sees the mandate.”

Mr. Calame cited his successor’s experience on the corporate side of Knight Ridder, in addition to his role as editor, as helps to Mr. Hoyt’s efforts to pierce the massive institution.

Mr. Hoyt had already sought the advice of Public Editor No. 1, Dan Okrent.

“He called me last week and we had a pleasant conversation,” said Mr. Okrent. “I told him what he was in for.”

In an internal email announcing the hire, Mr. Keller mentioned Mr. Hoyt’s role Washington Editor of Knight Ridder as playing a part in the decision.

If you watched Bill Moyers’ PBS documentary last week—Buying the War—you know that Knight Ridder’s coverage of the White House leading up to the invasion of Iraq proved far more accurate than the A1 stories in The Times and Washington Post.

“In that role,” Mr. Keller wrote, “he presided over a body of aggressive reporting in the run-up to the war in Iraq—journalism that has been widely praised for sometimes being more skeptical about the pre-war intelligence than bigger news organizations, including our own.”

Of the selection process, which several media critics have weighed in on, The Times again went with an outsider.

“I don't intend to reconstruct the selection process,” Mr. Keller wrote, “but I can say that we had no shortage of candidates. I can say that after much discussion about the nature of the job, we decided that we preferred to continue the practice of selecting someone from outside, although we had excellent prospects from within The Times family. We wanted someone with a deep understanding of how serious news organizations work, although he will be examining a news organization that is evolving into something of a print-digital hybrid, with all the challenges that presents.”

Mr. Hoyt begins his fixed two-year term on May 14.