Saturday, May 26, 2007

Let a blog be your ombuddy

Deb Howell reports on a number of interesting observations encountered at the Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen (ONO) convention at Nieman HQ in Cambridge. It's worth reading just for the link to the keynote address, a long, rather elegant oration by Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian.

She also raises and then suspends this question: Should ombudsmen blog?

Jeff Jarvis says yes, of course they should. Deb says, "Maybe."

I'll help her resolve this one: he's right, you should.

And the ombuddy blog ought to be a genuine forum, where readers have as much standing to raise topics and issue opinions as anybody else. Newspapers employ ombudsmen not because they are smart, authoritative judges of journalism practice (though many, of course, are) but because we know the news process needs to be opened up.

We seek transparency because it helps build credibility and improves our standing amongst readers. An ombudsman – as an independent third party – can enhance that. And so can a genuinely open public blog, inviting and enabling broad particiation.

Deb reports drawing a laugh when she protested not having time. "I hardly have time to go to the bathroom. Start a blog?"

But honestly, how can speaking to thousands of interested readers in a forum specifically crafted to engage them be an optional exercise? Isn't that really the foundation of the whole job?

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