FIT FOR PRINT: SPAYD NEW PUBLIC EDITOR OF NEW YORK TIMES

FIT FOR PRINT: SPAYD NEW PUBLIC EDITOR OF NEW YORK TIMES

by Jeff Dodge

When Elizabeth Spayd (’81) was 10 years old, she created her own handwritten newspaper called the Spayd Sentinel and passed it out it to friends and family.

She’s come a long way since then: Spayd was recently hired for one of the country’s top journalism jobs – public editor of The New York Times.

“I got a good foundation in journalism education at CSU,” she says, adding that working at the campus newspaper was key. “The Collegian was a huge part of my journalism life there. That’s where I came to understand and love journalism.”

In addition, she cites the influence of former CSU journalism professor Cecil Neth. “I’m sure many would say he was their favorite because he was very ‘roll-up-your-sleeves, get ink-stained, and get out there,’” she recalls.

Spayd also remembers cutting loose: She and a girlfriend lived in a spare room in a fraternity and rode her Yamaha 125 motorcycle to tailgating parties at football games. Spayd and her friends once broke into a CSU cafeteria and stole a Christmas tree.

“We were dragging it literally in front of the front desk, but we were staying low enough that they didn’t see us,” she says. “We were wearing nylons over our heads, to be totally into the thievery. We got caught as we were driving off with the tree sticking out the back door, but we talked our way out of it.”

Spayd was very serious about her career, however. She started at a daily newspaper in Craig, Colo., then worked at the Penny Stock News and Detroit News before spending 25 years at the Washington Post, where she felt just as prepared as her colleagues who had gone to Ivy League schools. She was managing editor of the Post before she took the helm of the Columbia Journalism Review in 2014. Spayd’s new role at the Times is to serve as a sort of readers’ advocate or news ombudsman.

“As the consumption of news becomes more segmented, I think journalists tend to write to their segmented audience, so you end up writing a story they want to hear,” she said. “The role of journalists is to challenge their audience’s preconceived notions, and challenge their own views, by talking to people who have opposing ideas.”

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