Freedom to offend: Toronto Star public editor Kathy English defends the freedom of columnists to express views that are outrageous and even offensive. “I must defend their freedom to offend,” she explains to readers.
Using the “L” word: Daniel Dale explains that a lie is a false statement made intentionally.
“If we journalists are going to present ourselves as arbiters of truth, we have to stick to what we know is true,” he writes. “And that means not calling something a lie when we don’t have a reasonable certainty that Trump’s intention is deception.”
Writing about suicides can make journalists squirm.
In part, it’s because the topic long was considered taboo or loaded with restrictions on the proper course of action. When I was a reporter and editor at the Chicago Tribune, one of the fears was that a story about someone who took his own life might trigger suicidal thoughts in others. A stigma was attached to suicides and it seemed best to avoid being too intrusive for the sake of the family.
These memories flooded back upon reading about the contortions that the Toronto Star staff suffered while trying to honor instructions left by Star reporter Raveena Aulakh, before she ended her life. She was the paper’s global environment reporter.
“Please don’t talk about me. Please don’t let anyone write about me,” she wrote, not even an obituary in the Star. Her family expressed similar wishes and the Star wanted to respect them.
But the Star could not. An investigation revealed that Aulakh was distraught over a broken relationship with her senior editor. She also revealed in emails that the senior editor was having a relationship with the Star’s female managing editor. Both lost their newsroom jobs. One left the newspaper.
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.