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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Crucial Time for News Ombudsmen

About forty members of the Organization of News Ombudsmen will meet in this beautiful "city of spires", Oxford, UK beginning later today in the Annual General Meeting. Details of the meeting can be found on the website.

This year we are meeting under the auspices of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. They have done a terrific job helping ONO. The actual venue for the meetings will be at St. Anne's College where term is still on so the frenzy of completing academic obligations will fit right in with our own concerns about relevancy and time lines.

It's been a surprisingly good year for ONO as our group has emerged from the teeth of the media recession actually stronger than before.

We have gained new members in Belgium, Israel, France, Ireland and Turkey. Most significantly, we have gained back a few old members and a few new ones in the United States, where we lost 13 ombuds due to newspaper cutbacks. We are still down a few in the US, but four more media organizations decided to create the position.

We have also done significant outreach to part of the world where the idea of media self-regulation is a power agency of democracy. And of course, there is more to do.

We were able to accomplish this thanks to a grant from the Open Society Institute which also gave us the funds to update our website thanks to Social-Ink in Brooklyn, NY. We launched a campaign to draw attention to it thanks to Scott Circle Communications in Washington DC. The result is that visits to the site are up anywhere from 120% to 300% per month.

The question for the conference is how to expand what we do and do it in a way that can offer our organization's considerable expertise at journalistic mediation which would then put ONO on a more secure financial basis. We think it's an obtainable goal, especially in these times.

Stephen Pritchard from The Observer in London is ending his two year term as president of ONO. His likely replacement is Jacob Mollerup from Danish Public Broadcasting. It's been great fun working with Stephen and I look forward to working with Jacob.

Meanwhile the British media is obsessed with the minority or "hung" parliament. Labourites are furious that the Lib Dems have abandoned their natural ideological allies in favor of the Tories. This is particularly true because many in Labour were told to vote strategically for Clegg and the Lib Dem only to keep a Tory from winning in a constituency. Many did and they now still have David Cameron,

I told them that a coalition can be a functional thing since it tends to soften the ideological edges of all parties - at least for while, if Canada is an example. But in the UK, the economic situation appears so perilous, that stability counts for more than ideology - at least for now. Perhaps for Ombudsmen too!

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