Monday, 29 September 2008

There is no IHT ombudsman to cut so this isn't a problem

A timely report from E&P on ombudsmen, given the credibility narrative we follow.

I've put the comments of Clark Hoyt, public editor of The New York Times, in bold (cut to chase - last para) because I wonder

a) how many readers of the global edition of the NYT have ever heard of him;

b) how many letters, emails or calls he gets from IHT readers?


Special Report: Ranks of Ombudsmen Continue to Thin

By Joe Strupp Published: September 25, 2008 10:31 PM ET
NEW YORK Newspaper ombudsmen have often been among the first targeted for cuts. But since the start of 2008, the axe appears to be falling more than ever on these public editors and reader representatives, who contend their work is as important as any staff writer or editor — perhaps more so as the industry faces some of its toughest challenges, prompting a need for someone who can handle reader concerns.

Gina Lubrano, former ombudsman at The San Diego Union-Tribune and executive secretary of the Organization of News Ombudsmen, declares, "This is unprecedented, this dropping of ombudsmen left and right." Lubrano, who says her group has 27 members in the U.S., notes that some 10 newspapers have dropped them in the past 12 months. "We are going through a bad time in journalism," she adds. "Papers are giving less to their readers." Since early 2008, a string of major news papers have seen their ombudsmen leave, either through layoffs, buyouts, or simple retirement. In many cases, cash-strapped editors have chosen to let those positions remain empty — or be eliminated. Among those that have lost their ombuds since January: The Sacramento Bee, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, The Sun of Baltimore, the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, the Orlando Sentinel, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant, and The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.

James Witt, executive editor in Fort Worth, says 10-year ombudsman David House was laid off as part of a 50-person newsroom cutback in June: "We now have a team of 40 editors and some senior reporters who all rotate. We each take it for one day. You take the calls, the e-mails, and it has actually worked great."

In early August, Pam Platt, public editor at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, left the post to take an editorial board position and editors chose to eliminate her former job. It had special significance because Platt was president of the Organization of News Ombudsmen, and the Courier-Journal had been the first North American newspaper to have such a position — going back more than 40 years."

I was sad," she says. "It has been an important part of the institution, but also a part of the community. I was in a lot of contact with the people." Platt, who held the post for seven years, says she would receive reader questions and complaints on all subjects. "When we dropped the stock tables, it was hundreds [of complaints] that week," she recalls. "I talked to people every day and I felt that I raised [those] concerns."

In Baltimore, Paul Moore's public editor position was eliminated in January along with other positions. He moved to a deputy managing editor role that he says will include a blog where he can write about newspaper concerns and respond to reader questions. "There is no regular column anymore, and I had done an internal memo to staff each week about issues," he points out. The public editor from May 2004 to January 2008, Moore admits, "there is a certain amount of inevitable burnout in a job like this." He adds that he would average 20 phone calls and 30 e-mails each day from readers: "It is contact with readers as much as anything, an interaction that occurs."

In her final column as Courant ombudsman on July 27, Karen Hunter called the job she lost through a layoff fascinating, "But with a smaller staff and a new Courant in the making, there will be little time for debates over such esoteric issues as political slant of the cryptogram or the theory that race is a fallacy."

Orlando Sentinel Editor Charlotte Hall, who lost public editor Manning Pynn to a voluntary severance offer in March, says a paper without such a person can cover the needs of reader concerns better than some think. "

The point is to be accountable to the public, and some papers have done that with an ombudsman," she claims. "Some write very good columns and explain process. On the other hand, a system that holds every editor directly accountable to readers also works very well. Papers can distance themselves too much from readers if everything goes to one person. There are real pros to having them and real pros not to having them." Comments Pynn: "When I took the job, I found there were a lot of people who had questions, but no one to answer [them]."

Palm Beach Post Editor John Bartosek, who at least temporarily cut the position following the retirement of 21-year ombudsman C.B. Hanif in August, believes there are other ways to handle the needs of the job: "It might not be the exact same format — it might not be a full-time position."

Former USA Today Reader Editor Brent Jones, who in July became standards and recruitment editor, says he still handles some of the same tasks, but added other responsibilities: "I obviously have to divide my time, but there will be others who will assist with reader concerns."

Deborah Howell, ombudsman at The Washington Post since 2006, says, "The ombudsman is the one person the reader feels like they can go to if they have a problem with the paper. That is the person they know to go to." And Clark Hoyt, public editor of The New York Times, believes cutting such positions, even to part time, is a detriment.

"It is a sad development," he says. "It closes an important avenue for readers to talk to newspapers and interact with newspapers, especially in a world we live in today where newspaper credibility is under challenge. Having a voice for readers is an important role."

* Editor's note: This story first appeared in E&P's September 2008 print edition.


International Herald Tribune
New York Times

Vacation /Business Trip Furnished Apartment in Paris

No comments: