Err, a public editor is not at all like a PR person. They may have some loyalty to the company they work for, but they work independently of the newsroom and in fact reporters tend to distrust them or consider them a nuisance. At worst, it's soft PR, but at best, it's a true ombudsman position.
>"They may have some loyalty to the company they work for, but they work independently of the newsroom and in fact reporters tend to distrust them or consider them a nuisance."
Do you have anything evidence for that claim? Either first hand experience or perhaps a citation?
I will concede they are not directly PR people, but yet the role of "Public Editor" was created in the wake of an ethics scandal and PR tsunami at the NYT. The position is also on the payroll of the NYT.
Occam's Razor would indicate we should follow the incentives.
Keeping an open mind as always, but I don't think there is good cause, a priori for the belief that the "Public Editor" is working tirelessly for the good of the people.
The fact that they work independently of the newsroom and sometimes even independently of the company (as a contractor) is simply the nature of the public editor / ombudsman and how it is set up at pretty much every newspaper that has one.
Re: how the public editor at the Times is perceived: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/opinion/13pubed.html?_r=0. The money quote: "A writer shaken by a conclusion I was reaching told me, if you say that, I'll have to kill myself." I would hope your company's PR person wouldn't make you feel like that.
You can't really avoid having the public editor on the payroll of the organization he or she works for, unless some wealthy donor is prepared to step in and pay for one. That means we always have to be sceptical of where their loyalties lie and their independence, but it doesn't mean they don't have any.
Also, the New York Times is one of the only papers in the world that tracks errors internally, so they can easily see which of their journalists are playing fast and loose, and will let them go if necessary.
Is it perfect? Obviously not. Are journalists and editors generally really bad at owning up to their mistakes? Yep. But an ombudsman is an attempt to do something about that, not an extension of that culture.
Kudos. It appears you've made a compelling case and I found those links to be interesting reading.
Of course we should still keep a close watch on the future to see how true it remains to the historical record and theory. But in the meantime, I'll be be updating my model, and nudging the needle, a little further toward the left. (if 'for the people' is left, and 'for the company' is to the right, on a 1 dimensional axis).