This paper examines the columns of Ian Mayes, the first Readers' Editor of The Guardian, and of Daniel Okrent, the first Public Editor of The New York Times, to provide an empirically grounded and theoretically informed analysis of the emergent role of newspaper public editors. To do this, the paper positions the emergence of public editors as part of a wider trend towards the adoption of mechanisms of media accountability, and engages with academic literature that has positioned this trend within an emergent paradigm of “media governance”. The empirical dimension of the paper is grounded in quantitative and qualitative analysis of columns written by Mayes and Okrent during their tenure as public editors at the two newspapers, as well as key organisational documents. The findings of the data analysis suggest that, in the context of debates around media accountability and governance, there is a need to consider forms of governance such as public editors in the context of broader social and organisational concerns with declining trust, managing corporate risk and providing external demonstrations of legitimacy, and a renewed and targeted emphasis on journalistic professionalism. © 2011 Taylor Francis Group, LLC.