Monday, February 28, 2011
Creating a Guide for News Ombudsmen
I am in the process of writing a guidebook for new and aspiring ombudsmen on behalf of the Organization of News Ombudsmen. Hence my less than frequent postings on this blog. Thanks to all for forbearance...It shouldn't be much longer.
As I think of all the elements that go into the role of an independent news ombudsman, I am constantly reminded of how the role is both robust and subtle.
Robust because the claims and counter-claims of the public can be as intense as any dialogue in the public sphere.
Subtle because an ombudsman needs to parse and dissect the elements and nuances in any argument no matter how intense they may be. It is also a relentless job that offers few ways to separate oneself from the onslaught. Members of the public may complain (as is their right). But it is their one and only missive to the ombudsman. The O receives dozens every day and the ability to deal with them all in a reasoned and proportional way is the essence of the job.
So in the writing of the handbook, I'm constantly reminded of the little ways in which ombudsman try to keep calm and carry on. A walk around the block, a cup of green tea, an adjacent Chinese gong which could be struck at times of duress (my assistant could hear it some days a bit too often) and a life outside of work were all helpful. But the return to the reality of a growing inbox of emails was always there.
But the real comfort was in knowing that the public still cared enough about good journalism to want to write to the ombudsman.