It varies. Sometimes the mail demands a certain topic, like The New York Times Magazine's cover story on sex slavery. There's no way I could not write about that because it provoked such an intense response. And of course I'll have to write about the Times' coverage of the general-election campaign. Individual readers will complain that this or that story is anti-Kerry or anti-Bush, but the coverage must be considered over time. Does somebody reading the paper on a regular basis get a fair version of events, or not?

You also took on the thorny subject of columnists and opinion journalism.
The volume of reader mail about various Times columnists is huge. Columnists are hired because they have opinions. But what happens when the opinion is based on erroneous facts? What is the paper's obligation to correct that?

Forever, it seems, the Times has been called America's "paper of record." You don't like that characterization.
I don't think any paper today can be the paper of record, and for readers to expect that will only lead to disappointment. That doesn't mean the Times shouldn't be as accurate as humanly possible, but it's the first draft of history, and first drafts are inaccurate. They need improvement.

You and Times management set some ground rules when you were hired. You decided that you would largely avoid issues preceding your tenure. Why?
When an institution as visible as the Times puts up a shingle that says, "Bring complaints here," the world beats a path to your door. There was a lot of pent-up demand. People had objections to things published a month earlier, a year earlier, 10 years earlier. It would be impossible to pursue all these things and do the job I came here to do, which is to monitor the paper and comment on its actions today.