It’s no doubt hard to justify spending money on an ombudsman when the newsroom budget is being slashed. And it’s easy to dismiss an ombudsman’s defense of his value as simply self-interest. But there’s a difference between having citizens point out errors and flaws, and having an independent observer inside a news organization with “a hall pass and a platform,” as New York Times executive editor Bill Keller describes an ombudsman.(Advancing the Story.)
Ombudsmen like [the Washington Post’s] Alexander and Shepard may never be beloved, but they do play an important role. Their presence is a clear signal that the news organization cares about the public’s concerns and will take steps to respond. And they can also serve as a deterrent. The knowledge that someone is watching, someone with the authority to draw public attention to errors and ethical missteps, may help keep them from happening in the first place.
Related posts: More Thoughts on the Decline of News Ombuds; News Ombuds to Meet in Washington; News Ombuds Also Vulnerable to Budget Cuts.