Facebook hires former NYT public editor Liz Spayd to consult on transparency

Facebook says it’s looking to become more open and transparent about its decisions, and it’s hired Liz Spayd, a former public editor of The New York Times, to consult on the process.

The hire comes as Facebook — or at least, parts of Facebook — seems to be wrestling with its role in the public sphere. There have been specific controversies, like the debate over Facebook’s role in spreading fake news (which the company has been doing more to fight), as well as a broader conversation around what responsibility Facebook has toward its 2 billion users.

One of the ways Facebook has tried to open up about these issues is through a series of blog posts around “Hard Questions,” like how Facebook addresses hate speech and what happens to people’s profiles after they die.

These posts are usually written by Facebook employees, but a spokesperson told me Spayd has been working for the past few weeks to help with Hard Questions and potentially to bring that same approach to transparency to other parts of the company.

In some ways, Spayd might seem perfect for that role — as The Times’ public editor,  she served as a sort of intermediary between readers and the newsroom. However, her columns were often controversial. Slate’s Will Oremus probably did the best job of laying out the case against her, arguing that she was “squandering the most important watchdog job in journalism” by parroting journalistic platitudes and reader complaints without thoughtful analysis.

Spayd turned out to be the last public editor at The Times, at least for now — the position was eliminated as part of larger editorial cuts.

Beyond her work as public editor, Spayd has a long journalistic résumé, including serving as editor of the Columbia Journalism Review and managing editor of the Washington Post. Her hiring was first reported by Recode.