Saturday, June 1, 2002

Ombudsman, newspaper

A reader asks, “To whom do you complain when the ombudsgod forgets the English remnant objective case interrogative pronoun?” He is, of course, referring to my use of the conversational who instead of the stilted whom in my first post. OmbudsGod is reminded of why he chose to major in economics instead of English as an undergraduate.

Nevertheless, alleged grammatical violations by OmbudsGod may be reported to the Word Police.

A newspaper ombudsman, usually a veteran reporter or editor, serves as an external spokesperson for the public and an internal critic for the newspaper. According to guidelines adopted in 1982 by the Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen (ONO), the ombudsman's duties are to: (1) represent the reader who has complaints, suggestions, questions or compliments; (2) investigate all complaints and recommend corrective action when warranted; (3) alert the newspaper to all complaints; (4) serve as an in-house critic; (5) make speeches or write to the public about the newspaper's policies, attitudes and operations; and (6) defend the newspaper publicly or privately when warranted.

To perform those functions, ombudsmen write newspaper columns, give speeches, circulate memoranda within the staff, and distribute questionnaires to persons mentioned in news stories.

The editorial independence of the ombudsman is a subject of debate in the newspaper field. Some believe that the person in this position should be exempt from contributing editorially to the newspaper for which he works, to preserve his neutrality in serving the interests of both the newspaper and the public; others point to the prohibitive expense of hiring a full-time ombudsman.

Use of the ombudsman in the United States came into existence only recently, the first newspaper ombudsman program having been established in 1967.

Who do you complain to when a newspaper’s coverage is terribly biased and the ombudsman is even more biased than the newspaper? The OmbudsGod!

My thanks to Tim Blair for the inspiration.

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