The Globe's New Ombuddy

The often beleaguered, sometimes marginalized, but usually undaunted newspaper ombudsman is a member of one of journalism's smallest and strangest fraternities. ONO Part complaint department/part internal affairs cop, the ombudsman often faces dual pressure from angry readers on the one hand and and upset colleagues in the workplace on the other.

The best thing that ever happened to the genre, in my opinion, was The New York Times's decision to finally drop its longstanding opposition to the concept and appoint Dan Okrent in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. Okrent had both the guts and the skill -- and the freedom from the instititution of the Times -- to do the job admirably and effectively at America's most important paper. It was a boost for ombudsmen everywhere

As a former Boston Globe ombudsman, I eagerly await the debut column from the paper's new ombudsman, Richard Chacon. Chacon, a respected member of the paper's staff, succeeds Christine Chinlund, who did that job with intelligence and courage. Coming off a fellowship at Harvard's Nieman Foundation, Chacon has given a lot of thought to the question of how to foster more interactivity between the paper and its readers and that's a good idea. This piece explains some of his new concepts for the job. Boston Globe

It's also good news that the ombudsman's column will be moving from Monday to Sunday, where it will catch more eyeballs, although I contend the column ought to be written weekly rather than bi-weekly, so that it could actually reach critical mass with readers.

Chacon acknowledges that there are natural tensions that arise -- with colleagues and bosses -- from the ombudsman's role, but that there doesn't have to be constant conflict. That's true, particularly when all parties adhere to the fundamental bargain that makes good ombudsmanship possible. The ombusdman himself needs to do his job dilligently, fearlessly and carefully. And his co-workers and superiors need to realize that even when the ombudsman writes something they don't like or agree with, he or she must be given the unfettered freedom to do so.
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