Tag Archives: ombudsmen

Janet Cooke’s World

Janet Cooke’s world: Every student journalist should know about Cooke, the only reporter ever forced to return a Pulitzer Prize because her story about an eight-year-old heroin addict was a hoax.

Bill Green, the Washington Post’s ombudsman, wrote a blistering report on the Post’s editorial lapses that is a model of journalism accountability. It set the standard for ombudsmen. From the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists archives.


Vanishing Media Ombudsmen

Vanishing media ombudsmen: The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists laments the loss of sharp-eyed ombudsmen and media writers like Margaret Sullivan.

“You’d think an ombudsman would be most useful in a time of change, especially in a time of budget-cutting and layoffs — just to be sure the public interest is served, and the quality of journalism is strong,” says a story in AdviceLine’s archives.

Ombudsman: ‘Loneliest Job in the Newsroom’

Kathy English
Kathy English, Toronto Star public editor (Toronto Star photo by Lucas Oleniuk)

By Casey Bukro

I’m a sucker for stories about news ombudsmen, or public editors or readers representatives, even though they are branded these days. I can’t help myself. It’s a compulsion, an addiction.

Think about it: An ombudsman might walk up to the top boss and tell him he’s wrong. She might pick through the details of a complicated story, then defend a reporter for doing a thankless, difficult or even dangerous job, or discover that a reporter did not go far enough to find the truth, and then say so publicly.

It’s almost heroic.

I suppose I also admire ombudsmen because what they do is so idealistic: speaking up without fear or favor, letting the chips fall where they may.

Maybe that’s why there are only about 20 of them working at American news outlets today, according to a Politico article, “The State of the Ombudsman in 2015.” That’s about half as many as a decade ago, according to USA Today.

Still, ombudsmen in the U.S. and elsewhere trudge on.

Kathy English, public editor of the Toronto Star in Canada, recently wrote an article titled, “So what does the public editor do?” Readers had asked her to explain her job, which she’s done for eight years.

Continue reading Ombudsman: ‘Loneliest Job in the Newsroom’

Ombudsmen a Global Growth Industry

By Casey Bukro

The Washington Post’s decision early this year to dump its ombudsman got a lot of attention, but a global growth in the ranks of ombudsmen as a step toward development has gone largely unnoticed.

“This growth reflects a belief in young or fragile democracies that strong media play a critical role in development,” reports “themediaonline,” most notably in Latin America.

“Themediaonline” report was based on “Giving the Public a Say: How News Ombudsmen Ensure Accountability, Build Trust and Add Value to Media Organizations” It was published by fesmedia Africa, a media project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Namibia, Africa. FES is a nongovernment, nonprofit foundation that promotes democratization and good governance.

An Argentine academic said the work of ombudsmen “demands our attention.”

In Africa, according to the report, ombudsmen organizations play an important role in fending off government interference. Instead of working for news media, ombudsmen in other parts of the world might operate as voluntary associations.

Africa has become a hotbed of ombudsman activity.

Complaints to a press ombudsman in the Johannesburg area jumped 224 percent since 2009, according to a report at the South Africa Editors’ Forum at Umhlanga, Africa.

Johan Retief, deputy press ombudsman of Print Media South Africa, said his organization received 151 complaints from aggrieved newspaper readers and newsmakers in 2009, and the tally is expected to reach 490 in 2013. PMSA is described as a nonprofit voluntary association with a membership of 700 newspapers and magazines in four languages.

Greater numbers of complaints to the ombudsman organization have been laid to growing public awareness of the organization’s public advocate role and its effectiveness in dealing with complaints about inaccurate or unfair newspaper reporting, according to IOLnews.

The newspaper industry’s previous system of self-regulation came under attack as “toothless,” and the governing African National Congress threatened to create a statutory tribunal to hear complaints. That was avoided by a stronger stance by the ombudsmen.

For example, Press Ombudsman Retief ordered the Daily Sun newspaper to publish a front page apology for front page color photos of the bodies of people killed in mob attacks.

Complainants said the pictures were insensitive, dehumanizing, inconsiderate, caused discomfort to society and lacked compassion, according to a report in the Mail & Guardian.

The photos published in October and November also raised concerns that they exposed society, including children, to extreme violence and desensitized people to violent crimes.

Mr. Fix-It Eyes Jeff Bezos

By Casey Bukro

Consumer Advocate Ralph Nader says he is speaking for longtime readers of the Washington Post when he asks how independent the newspaper will be under Jeff Bezos’ ownership.

In an open letter to the Post, Nader says the public has been treated to profiles depicting the new boss’s business successes and his personal style and demeanor.

“What we have not been told is how the newspaper is going to shield itself from Mr. Bezos’ far-flung business interests in order to maintain reader credibility and trust,” Nader wrote.

Nader is known for his bulldog tenacity in making corporate leaders sweat over consumer issues like environmental protection and auto safety. He has some advice for Bezos, who acquired ownership of the Washington Post in a $250 million deal in which he would become sole owner of the newspaper and its publishing company.

“Mr. Bezos would do well to reestablish the longtime ombudsman post which was abolished in March of this year, presumably to save money,” wrote Nader. “For an ombudsman’s role is not just to be an internal critic at the paper but also to be the reader’s coherent voice on the ways the Washington Post is being managed.”

The Post in March said the ombudsman would be replaced by a reader representative, ending a 43-year practice of employing an ombudsman who wrote a long-standing Sunday column.

At the time, Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth wrote that the ombudsman’s “duties are as critical today as ever. Yet it is time that the way these duties are performed evolves.”

Sacked in Turkey

By Casey Bukro

Ombudsmen in journalism are seen as scolds, nit-pickers, snitches and nuisances — if they do the job right.

People are paid for doing that job right, and sometimes they are fired for the same reason.

The most recent example is Yavuz Baydar, who was the ombudsman for the Turkish  newspaper Sabah. He was criticizing the government and his newspaper, and management decided that either he desist or find work elsewhere.

Baydar was quoted in The Guardian newspaper that his “sacking” was an attack not just on journalism, but on Turkish democracy and freedom of expression.

There are echoes in this from the departure of Patrick Pexton as the Washington Post’s last ombudsman — a job title that had lasted 43 years at the Post.

An ombudsman works on behalf of the public, and keeps an eye on their organization’s ethical standards and relationship with its audience.

In his own departure remarks, printed in the Washington Post, Pexton said “the power of truth is the power to humble governments, to obtain justice, to foil hypocrisy, to help the downtrodden, to reveal the world as it is, not as we might like it to be.”

Baydar’s ousting was noticed worldwide, causing commentary on the difficult role of ombudsmen and shedding light on journalism in Turkey.

Baydar is fighting back, saying he “will take the firing decision to court.”