Who do editors really work for? (Or I should say: For whom do editors really work?)

Who do editors really work for? (Or I should say: For whom do editors really work?)

: There has been interesting reaction to new CNN boss Jonathan Klein’s public dissing and canceling of Crossfire — and in turn, interesting reaction to my reaction to that (here).

I have a different take on this from others.

Others say Klein is an ass who won’t inspire loyalty and hard work from his troops by publicly criticizing them. They say he’s a bozo who can’t keep his mouth shut when he disses bloggers in PJs and sticks his foot in his mouth using flood-the-zone allusions when talking about the tsunami. And there’s reason to believe that Klein will give us boring programming that shows off reporters’ egos and spend more Time Warner money and ends up losing more ratings to Fox. I wonder whether Klein would be getting the same criticism on his Crossfire comments if he had not at the same time been firing the conservative guy. Nonetheless, fine: All that is probably true.

But look at this another way. Here’s the question that interests me:

Who does Klein really work for? Who should the producer of a news show or the editor of a paper or the anchor of a news show think he works for?

His company? Her staff? His bosses?

Or the public?

An editor must believe that he works for the public he serves.

He must also believe he belongs to that public. That is especially true today in an era of citizen colleagues and interactivity. But it has always been true. When I worked at People, some editors disdained the audience and thus created crappy content that talked down to people for whom they had no respect.

I always said that with the possible exception of the editor of Barbie magazine, an editor should never refer to the audience as “them” but rather as “us.”

So in that respect, when Klein ends up agreeing with Jon Stewart that Crossfire is a bad and even damaging show, he is speaking not from the perspective of his bosses or his company or his talent or their agents but rather from the perspective of the people he is trying to serve — his public.

And that is a good thing. That is the way journalism should work. We work for the public.

: TVNewser has more here, including a chuck of Howard Kurtz’ show on the topic:

The CNN program Reliable Sources discussed CNN’s plan to cut Crossfire this morning, and the show didn’t go easy on its boss. Today’s critical look at CNN — on CNN’s air — was good to see.

“I think [Crossfire is] great brand name,” Newsday critic Verne Gay said. I think it’s a nutty decision to cancel it. It could be made into great television.” (He’s right on the money.) But syndicated columnist Steve Roberts disagreed. He appeared on Crossfire once: “It was awful. Everybody was yelling at me the whole time. I walked off the set and said ‘don’t call me again.’ They said ‘you were great…'”

“Should Klein has sided with Jon Stewart over his own employees?,” Howard Kurtz asked. “Maybe it wasn’t good for morale for his employees, but it was exactly right for the substance,” Roberts responded.