Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Getting back to blogging

Yes, it's been a long time since I blogged. With all the talk of advisers blogging on the College Media Advisers listserv, I decided I should get back to it.

Based on question that came up on the listserv, I decided to write about newspaper ombudsmen.

A news ombudsman, also known as reader's representative or public editor, is a person who monitors coverage for fairness and accuracy and responds to reader's complaints. (A bit of trivia: ombudsman is a Swedish word meaning "representative of the people." ) Though advisers and top editors often fill this role unofficially, an official ombudsman is generally someone who has some distance from the day-to-day workings of the newsroom. It may be a former reporter or editor who is no longer involved in the newspaper or someone who is interested in journalism but not part of the regular newspaper staff.

The Organization of News Ombudsman lists these reasons for having a reader's advocate.
  • To improve the quality of news reporting by monitoring accuracy, fairness and balance.
  • To help his or her news provider to become more accessible and accountable to readers or audience members and, thus, to become more credible.
  • To increase the awareness of its news professionals about the public's concerns.
  • To save time for publishers and senior editors, or broadcasters and news directors, by channeling complaints and other inquiries to one responsible individual.
  • To resolve some complaints that might otherwise be sent to attorneys and become costly lawsuits.
Often reader's advocates have a regular column exploring ethical issues and complaints about coverage. Here are some of the college papers that have had news ombudsmen in recent years. Click on the paper's name for an example of a reader's advocate column:

The Badger Herald, University of Wisconsin-Madison
The Justice, Brandeis University
The Cavalier Daily, University of Virginia
The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University
The Advance Titan, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Does your student newspaper have an ombudsman? How does the position work? Has it helped your paper? Write a comment and share your experience.