29 September 2003
Watching the watchers
No one will ever accuse The Daily Oklahoman of being a great metropolitan newspaper; the kindest thing I can say about it, generally, is that it sticks to its editorial guns.
Then again, it's never occurred to me that the Oklahoman would necessarily benefit from a "readers' representative", an ombudsman, someone whose job it is to critique the paper's coverage and practices; if readers object to the way the paper is doing its job, they can quit paying for it (or, in the case of some of us, kvetch in public about it).
Matt Welch takes a dim view of ombudsmen (ombudspersons?) himself:
Ombudsmen tend to have a startlingly uniform view of how news organizations and their employees should act and think of themselves. Crime coverage and screaming headlines bad. Four-part, 17,500-word series on race relations in a sleepy Southern town good. They typically see their position, the newsroom, and the paper itself to be exalted above the readers they are allegedly paid to represent.
If a paper exercises poor editorial judgment, payback, in the marketplace and elsewhere in the press and, lately, in the Blogosphere is swift and ferocious. And it's unclear how the new "public editor" at The New York Times could have done anything to alleviate, say, the Jayson Blair situation. Every organization should have one person whose function is to point out things that are going wrong, but it's not necessary to invest that person with the trappings of a Representative of the Public; it is only necessary to pay attention to what is said.