Articles about "Ombudsmen"

How Jim Brady plans to make money in local

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. Was SI’s LeBron James scoop legit? Sam Kirkland rounds up some thinkination from thinkinators and notes that SND’s Rob Schneider said the NYT’s celebrated sports section front on Saturday was inaccurate — James hadn’t signed at the time. (Poynter) | The “item did move on the sports AP wire, exactly as presented,” Margaret Sullivan writes. “I guess I can see his point, but it’s too literal,” Benjamin Hoffman, who designed the page, told her. (NYT) | James decided to go to SI rather than ESPN because 2010′s “The Decision” “upset America’s collective stomach and spoiled his reputation as a basketball god,” Robert Weintraub writes. “The average fan could read his moving, sincere announcement on and subconsciously think, Maybe it was ESPN’s fault, not LeBron’s, all along.” (CJR) | The “trade rumor — shorthand here for any offseason transaction news — has become the dominant form of NBA journalism.” (Grantland)
  2. How Jim Brady plans to make money in local: His Philly news startup will use a “mix of advertising, events and memberships,” Joe Pompeo reports. Advertisers will have options beyond display ads: “A security company might sponsor a public-safety discussion group, for instance.” (Capital)
  3. NPR “downgrades” ombudsman job: The next occupant of that seat will focus “on fact gathering and explanation, not commentary or judgment,” Jay Rosen reports. “In my view, NPR is far stronger than this short-sighted and half-assed decision suggests. It has nothing to fear from an empowered ombudsman.” (PressThink)
  4. BuzzFeed articles disappear: After a “review of our most updated policies and standards,” BuzzFeed “edited some posts, removed certain posts and left other posts as is.” (Gawker) | BuzzFeed gave some early, senior employees the ability to go back and memory-hole articles. (Poynter)
  5. News orgs’ investments in race beats pays off: AP race and ethnicity reporter Jesse Holland broke the story of black Democrats supporting Sen. Thad Cochran after several reporters “had noticed advertisements in two of the state’s black newspapers, but no one knew who was behind them,” Tracie Powell reports. “I picked up the phone and called the black newspaper and asked who placed the ad,” Holland told Powell. “I’m not sure why no one else thought to do that.” (CJR)
  6. Twitter is 8 years old. Here’s Biz Stone‘s announcement of “Twittr”‘s website from July 15, 2006: ” It’s fun to use because it strips social blogging down to it’s essence and makes it immediate.”

  7. Following in Chrystia Freeland’s footsteps? Former Toronto Star reporter Allan Thompson is running for parliament. (Toronto Star)
  8. Lumberjacks’ revenge: Newspaper reporter makes “endangered jobs” list (Poynter) | Employment at TV stations slips a little. And “Total radio news employment is up this year versus last year, but not in the way radio news people would like.” (RTDNA)
  9. “This is a publicity stunt for sure, but one with heart”: Fans react to Archie Andrews‘ impending death, saving a gay friend. (AP) | “Archie is actually still alive in the Archie series set in the present day” and there’s a series where he’s a zombie, too. (Vulture)
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: David Plotz is “dropping the mic” as editor of Slate, leaving his former deputy editor, Julia Turner, in charge. Said Plotz of his decision: “What am I gonna do, die here?” (Poynter) | Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, he of the leaked New York Times Innovation Report, has been named senior editor for strategy at the Times. (Poynter) | Maria Russo will be children’s books editor of The New York Times Book Review in August. (@PamelaPaulNYT) | Amanda Kost, an investigative journalist at KMGH in Denver, will be a national investigative reporter at the Scripps Washington Bureau. (Scripps News) | Alisyn Camerota is now an anchor at CNN. She was previously a co-host of America’s News Headquarters at Fox News. (CNN) | John Homans is leaving his job as New York Magazine executive editor to join Bloomberg Politics, a vertical led by “Game Change” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. (Capital) | David Sirota joins International Business Times as a senior writer. (Digiday) | Marta Tellado, vice president for global communications at the Ford Foundation, has been named chief executive of Consumer Reports. She will replace Jim Guest, who became CEO and president in 2001. (New York Times) Want to meet LeBron James? The Northeast Ohio Media Group (which includes the Plain Dealer) is hiring a sports reporter. Get your résumés in! | Send Ben your job moves:

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Washington Post names new reader representative

The Washington Post

Alison Coglianese will succeed Doug Feaver as The Washington Post’s “reader representative,” the Post announced Thursday. She will “help make sure that reader questions and complaints are directed to the right place and responded to appropriately,” the announcement says. “She will also answer questions from time to time on the Ask the Post blog.”

Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt told Joe Strupp in January that Coglianese may assume the role.

The Post did away with a traditional ombudsman role last March, saying “media writers inside and outside The Post will continue to hold us accountable for what we write.” Feaver explained to Poynter’s Craig Silverman why he wouldn’t be an ombudsman: I’m not [charged with] holding the newsroom accountable,” he said. Read more


Guardian ombudsman explains decision to remove Keller post

The Guardian | The New York Times | NPR

There were problems with the style and tone of Emma Keller’s Jan. 8 piece about Lisa Bonchek Adams, who has stage IV breast cancer and writes about her experiences on Twitter. There were editing problems and some difficulties that, for now, likely won’t be resolved, Chris Elliott, the Guardian readers’ editor, wrote Thursday.

The Guardian removed Keller’s piece from its site Jan. 13, after a wave of reader complaints and a Twitter backlash.

Adams and her family were shocked by the blog post, which she has said completely misrepresented the nature of her illness and her reasons for tweeting, was riddled with inaccuracies, and quoted from a private direct message to Keller through Twitter published without permission.

It was a shock compounded by the publication on 13 January in the New York Times of a column by Keller’s husband, Bill Keller, a former NYT executive editor, which also focused on Adams’s use of social media.

Keller told Elliott that she regretted not giving Adams notice that she planned to quote from direct messages on Twitter. Keller also regretted not giving Adams a head’s up that the piece was coming, Elliott wrote. Read more


Washington Post’s reader representative leaves

Media Matters for America

Doug Feaver has left his position as The Washington Post’s “reader representative,” Joe Strupp reports. Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt tells Strupp “the Post is still considering whether or how Feaver will be replaced, saying that Feaver’s deputy, Alison Coglianese ‘may assume the role.’ ”

Last March, Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth said the paper would eliminate its ombudsman position: “We know that media writers inside and outside The Post will continue to hold us accountable for what we write,” she said. Read more

NPR Headquarters

NPR ombud’s latest report raises important questions, but it’s not without flaws

The modern ombudsman has been a prominent fixture in several of the largest American newsrooms since The New York Times instituted its public editor in the wake of the Jayson Blair debacle a decade ago.

While the position itself has been controversial among journalism leaders, newsrooms that contract with an ombudsman signal to their audience that they take their work seriously enough to open themselves up to independent critique.

Every ombudsman worth his (or her, but most of them have been men) tenure produces a few particularly noteworthy reports or analyses during his tenure.

In 2004, Daniel Okrent took a look at The New York Times’ failure on weapons of mass destruction and did a very smart examination of whether The New York Times was liberal. Then Arthur S. Brisbane riled up readers as well as Times brass last year when he asked whether the Times should be a “truth vigilante.”

ESPN’s Don Ohlmeyer’s received a particular gift from the network in the form of “The Decision”  — LeBron James’ notorious announcement that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami. In that report, Ohlmeyer examined many of the central conflicts present at ESPN.

And now NPR’s current ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, has published a 35,000-word report excoriating a celebrated investigative series from 2011 in which the radio network examined the high rate at which the state of South Dakota places Native American kids into white foster homes.

Schumacher-Matos concludes that NPR should not have aired the series, citing two factual errors and a significant amount of missing context.

NPR has pushed back, but it’s also acknowledged a lack of attention to nuance, inadequate citation of sources in some cases, and that its reporters didn’t try hard enough to represent the view of the state once officials refused to answer questions.

This report likely will be what Schumacher-Matos is remembered for.

I’ve been following the work of ombudsmen since Okrent was appointed. I’ve been consulted for various columns with all of the previous New York Times public editors. I interviewed for the job at the New York Times and at NPR. And I served as the lead writer on ESPN’s Poynter Review Project, an 18-month stint in which we at Poynter offered public critiques of the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Among the significant challenges to doing the job well:

  • selecting the right topics from a constantly growing pile of complaints, questions and concerns
  • producing a timely, yet thoughtful response
  • doing original reporting (something New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has done a good job of)
  • establishing collegial rapport, yet maintaining a professional distance from the employees of the organization
  • finding an outside editor to provide the necessary editing and to ensure the pieces serve the audience

The most interesting columns from ombudsmen are those that examine the complicated process of journalism — who does it, how stories are selected and how that process impacts the marketplace of ideas. That process has become increasingly complicated to explain in the wake of the digital revolution.

There is no doubt after reading Schumacher-Matos’ report that NPR made mistakes in the series. And it’s even reasonable to argue that because of those mistakes, NPR overreached in assigning blame and motives to state officials responsible for taking children from Native American families.

But Schumacher-Matos’ report also gets bogged down in arguments about which statistics to use, how to add up certain numbers and how to frame the story. Those philosophical arguments are great for a master’s thesis in journalism or a case study for a classroom, which is ultimately what he produces. But they significantly distract the audience (and perhaps even NPR officials) from the flaws in the stories. In doing so, Schumacher-Matos undermines his legitimate criticisms with an exercise in changing the subject.

This is one of the perils of being an ombudsman. Every issue is a quagmire. Your job is to wade through the messy backstory and identify how and where journalism’s core values were violated. Doing that as an independent person with limited support is tough. It’s why most ombudsmen have a contact list full of fellow thinkers to sort through ideas. It’s why most rely upon a trusted outside editor, who often doesn’t get paid. Every writer needs a good editor.

I don’t know whom Schumacher-Matos was relying on for help. I emailed him and he politely declined to do an interview or answer additional questions. He did post a follow-up, where he described his sourcing and his consultation with other journalists.

So I can’t describe what process he used to write his report, beyond what he has provided. What I can say is that the very length of his report, which tackles factual inaccuracies, missing context and broader philosophical questions about poverty and Native Americans, undermines its effectiveness.

Schumacher-Matos nails NPR on serious flaws and oversights. Namely, he identifies two numbers that were carelessly and erroneously thrown about and he identifies contextual issues that should have been addressed.

He also points out other valid concerns. The families who provided anecdotal material weren’t asked to sign waivers so that reporters could look at their case files, which meant any documented evidence of neglect that authorities were relying upon — weak or strong — didn’t make it into the story. Also, the problems of foster care cross cultural boundaries, affecting all poor communities.

Schumacher-Matos could have pointed out the errors and true contextual deficiencies in a single substantial column. By expending so much energy on the nebulous issues of how reporters could have framed the story and counted foster children differently, he turns a solid critique into something squishy that can be dismissed.

Perhaps the most glaring flaw of his critique is a lack of Native American voices. He  imports their voices from the original NPR report, as well as a follow-up talk-show conversation. But nowhere does he bounce his findings or theories off of the people who are at the heart of the story.

Janice Howe, the grandmother whose painful narrative of losing her four grandchildren to foster care was part of the NPR story, called Schumacher-Matos. In the introduction to his report, he describes her story as “unsubstantiated” and “based largely on hearsay.”

In response to her call he wrote, “I do not know the full truth about what is happening on the ground in South Dakota. My investigation focused on NPR’s adherence to its own journalism standards, not on the state, or the Indian Child Welfare Act, or government policy concerning Native Americans.”

Schumacher-Matos inadvertently seems to erase the connection between the current foster-care system endured by so many Native American children and a history of forced separation. While he is right to point out that you can’t simply assign racist motives to state officials running the social-service system in South Dakota, you likewise can’t insist that Native Americans’ past experience of suffering has no connection to their present experience.

It would have been reasonable for Schumacher-Matos to conclude this critique by suggesting that the staff on the series possibly shared a preconceived liberal bias that allowed them to oversimplify who the bad guys were (state officials) because it fit a convenient narrative.

Instead, he suggests that the journalists were asking the wrong question when they asked why most Native American children in South Dakota who enter foster care end up in white homes, in spite of a federal law that says that shouldn’t happen.

My fear is that this report will sour NPR leadership so much that Schumacher-Matos will be the last NPR ombudsman. I hope that doesn’t happen.

Having an ombudsman makes a newsroom better, even when that ombudsman seems unfair or off-base in making an assessment. Transparency has become a core value in modern journalism, and ombudsmen provide a significant mechanism for such transparency. And even when I disagree with their conclusions, I believe that ombudsmen provide a vital way for communities with connect to journalists and hold them accountable.

“The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century” is now available. The book is a compilation of essays and case studies edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with a foreword by Bob Steele, for use in newsrooms, classrooms and other settings dedicated to a marketplace of ideas that serves democracy. You can find more information about the book here. Read more

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NPR Headquarters

Do errors in NPR piece merit an 80-page report?


NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos’ massive report on an investigative series NPR broadcast in 2011 “sets up an unfair challenge to NPR,” Poynter’s Kelly McBride tells NPR’s David Folkenflik.

“Because, if he wants to do a column about why they chose this story instead of that story, then he should do that column. But he essentially does both in this very long report.”

NPR’s top news management “recused themselves from the preparation of this article about the dispute between the network and the ombudsman over the investigative series,” Folkenflik writes. The reporters and editors behind the series “declined to respond on the record to most of the points” in Schumacher-Matos’ report, he wrote. “NPR stands by the stories,” Kinsey Wilson (who is on Poynter’s board of trustees) and Margaret Low Smith wrote in an editors’ note.

“It’s very possible, in an investigative story, to get certain facts wrong but still have the overall truth be quite accurate,” McBride tells Folkenflik. “And I’m not saying that’s an excuse because when that happens it’s incredibly unfortunate and even irresponsible on the part of journalists.” Read more

NPR Headquarters

NPR stands by story its ombudsman criticized

There are six chapters of NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos’ epic examination of Laura Sullivan and Amy Walters’ October 2011 investigation about foster care in South Dakota.

The series won awards but was also criticized by the state’s governor and head of its Department of Social Services. “Many South Dakota residents also have written me in disapproval of it,” Schumacher-Matos writes. “My finding is that the series was deeply flawed and should not have been aired as it was,” Schumacher-Matos writes. He lists the story’s “five sins”:

1. No proof for its main allegations of wrongdoing;
2. Unfair tone in communicating these unproven allegations;
3. Factual errors, shaky anecdotes and misleading use of data by quietly switching what was being measured;
4. Incomplete reporting and lack of critical context;
5. No response from the state on many key points.

Read more
Robert Lipstye

New ESPN ombud Robert Lipsyte talks about his role

Ask if Robert Lipsyte is going to be particularly critical as ESPN’s new ombudsman, and he mentions a little piece he penned for Slate magazine back in June 2011. The piece dismantles the 763-page oral history of ESPN, “Those Guys Have All the Fun.”

In that review, Lipsyte — who once worked on ESPN’s SportsCentury and Classic Sports Reporters shows, among many prestigious sports journalism jobs — criticized the authors for not being tough enough on the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Why didn’t they look at how ESPN’s cheerleading affected America’s perception of celebrity athlete, or its problems covering athletes it also pays? (“The phrase ‘conflict of interest’ seems flabby,” he wrote then.)

Robert Lipstye

Turns out, when top ESPN executive John A. Walsh called to ask if he would be interested in the job, Lipsyte eventually sent him that column — which also indirectly called Walsh “controlling,” “Machiavellian” and “a genius.”

It was an example of the type of work he’d be doing as the outlet’s fifth ombudsman; an independent columnist who reviews ESPN’s journalism on ESPN’s website. It’s also a job that involves, first and foremost, being the audience’s advocate.

“It’s very clear that I’m representing an audience, an audience that needs to understand how ESPN works,” said Lipsyte, 75, who found out on Monday that he finally had the gig. “I really do believe the definitions and values of sports have value in society. The way that the media, including ESPN, covers sports, adds to or detracts from our understanding of the world. And that’s my job. Explaining that to people who want to know how it works.”

ESPN spent about five months without an ombudsman; a break that brought some buzz in sports media circles. But Patrick Stiegman,’s vice president and editor-in-chief, said Walsh led a team that considered two dozen names for the job, winnowed down to a few candidates they interviewed in person.

“We struck gold with Mr. Lipsyte. … he’s a legend in the field,” Stiegman said. “He was provocative, was mindful of what ESPN’s business goals were, mindful of ESPN’s goals as a journalistic entity and he challenged us. … He offered a tremendous analogy: He sees the role as being a window washer for ESPN. … It’s about transparency; his job is to keep those windows clean.”

Connected to journalism since his job as a copy boy for The New York Times in 1957, Lipsyte has worked for the Times, CBS and NBC as an columnist and reporter, along with PBS, National Public Radio and the New York Post. He has also penned 10 books.

Lipsyte will succeed the Poynter Project, a revolving roster of writers from the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which last served as ombudsman (Full disclosure: Poynter owns the newspaper where I work, the Tampa Bay Times). Previous ESPN ombudsmen/women include former NBC and ABC sports and entertainment executive Don Ohlmeyer, ex-Washington Post sports editor George Solomon and Le Anne Schreiber, a onetime sports editor at the New York Times.

There are no concrete plans worked out, but Lipsyte also hopes to create a blog and Twitter page for the ombudsman’s work, using Margaret Sullivan, the cyber-savvy ombudsman for the New York Times, as an inspiration.

“I like the way she’s structuring it; finding a topic, reporting on it and gently giving her take,” he said of Sullivan, noting he’d mostly use Twitter to promote work published elsewhere — at least at first. “I think, now, Twitter is just a little too reactive. An ombudsman is supposed to be a little reflective, maybe wait a beat.”

After a moment, he drops the punchline. “Two months from now, come back and tell me how full of s— I was,” he adds, laughing.

Besides confirming Lipsyte’s old school talent for salty newsroom language, the moment also demonstrates there’s little set in stone for this job at the outset. With no firm date in mind, he’s set to start sometime in June, producing at least two pieces each month under an 18-month contract.

His output will focus on columns for — where every other ombudsman has appeared — though he could also helm audio or video podcasts and surface on other multimedia platforms, Stiegman said.

The most interesting tidbit: Lipsyte could be the first ombudsman for ESPN who might actually appear on its most-watched platform, the television channels.

“The ombudsman should be everywhere ESPN is, (and) it would be better to respond on the platform the story is about,” Lipsyte said, suggesting that he might pop up in an interview or debate segment to speak on a major issue. “I don’t see Outside the Lines giving me my own airtime. … but as somebody who loves to get made up, I’m more than happy to go on TV.”

Asked if he’ll work from ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. Headquarters, Lipsyte answers almost by reflex (“God, no!”), noting he’ll stay in his New York area homebase and travel north when needed.

He acknowledges slipping into an old fashioned job with new media potential.

“There does seem something comfortably old fashioned about an ombudsman; someone who is holding an institution accountable or holding the door open to let others hold them accountable,” Lipsyte said.

“I think ESPN seems like this monolith (to outsiders). … They forget it’s all these different platforms populated by all these different people with these conflicting goals and ambitions. When you break it down, it’s really just people; which is far more human and interesting than people would think from the outside.” Read more

Earns Washington Post

New Washington Post reader representative explains why he won’t be the paper’s ombud

Doug Feaver has no illusions about his new job.

“My primary mission is to respond to readers,” says the Washington Post’s new reader representative.

In other words, he is not an ombudsman.

“This is different — I’m not [charged with] holding the newsroom accountable,” he said in a recent phone interview, adding that “if there were some very difficult subjects that come up, or some obvious matter, I would try to explain how it happened and do the reporting with who is involved, but I wouldn’t be doing what the previous ombudsman was doing.”

Doug Feaver

Feaver started his career at the Post in 1969 and held many roles over the course of 36 years, including executive editor. He at one point wrote the Post’s dot.comments blog, which highlighted reader feedback and discussion.

That blog ended in 2010 and Feaver was enjoying his retirement when longtime colleague and current Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt reached out to ask if he’d take the reader representative job.

“He approached me on this one and said, ‘You know, we’re getting a lot of reader comments; I wondered if you’d be interesting in taking a look at that and seeing if something can be done with this?’ ” Feaver said.

The job, which is part-time, was introduced by Post publisher Katharine Weymouth at the same time she announced the paper would no longer employ a full-time, independent ombudsman. (As for being pulled out of retirement, Fever half-jokingly told me that “my job is a half day job, which is probably a little bit more than I want.”)

Weymouth’s announcement was criticized by those who saw the Post abandoning an important aspect of accountability. Feaver said he’s aware of such concerns, but isn’t bothered by them. “My ego isn’t distressed by it,” he said.

But should the Post have an ombudsman as well as someone who just responds to readers?

“I’m going to duck that one if you don’t mind,” he said.

Feaver works with a full-time assistant who filters through voicemails and reader emails to find ones that relate to the Post’s journalism. He said it’s important to ensure readers get a response.

“There is no question that we need to be talking with the people who look at our website or look at the printed newspaper — we need to communicate with these folks,” he said.

I asked if he sees himself as an internal advocate for readers, or if he’s there to simply offer factual responses to questions about the Post’s journalism.

“I guess I’m a bit of an advocate for readers because I also regard myself as the responder to all those different questions, an explainer of what journalism is about,” he said.

Now, about that first blog post. Feaver’s first entry was about a topic that at least one media critic deemed highly pedestrian: the disappearance of the print button from the Post’s article pages. Feaver said he took it up because “so many” readers asked about it: “I got a ton of phone calls and emails saying, ‘Where the hell is the print button?’ So I thought it was worth writing about.”

In short order, the button was back on the Post’s site. Feaver said the episode calls attention to one of his standard operating procedures: people in the newsroom will always get a heads up about what he’s looking into.

In the case of the print button, the Post design team knew Feaver had received complaints and was going to blog about them. (His second post curated reader response to a Post story Feaver deemed “terrific.”)

Feaver says he won’t hesitate to bring reader questions and concerns to the relevant people at the Post. So far, he said, “nothing has come up where it seemed to me that I needed to go and review with a reporter or an editor to find out what the hell went wrong here.” But, he added, “I certainly would have no problem doing that.”

Would he also be willing to suggest a change if he felt the paper could do better?

“You know, that’s very hard to answer,” he said, adding that “if things need to be recommended I will follow and feel free to do that, but I’m saying that as a generality. … I will be reluctant to say that, you know, there’s a problem there.”

Before ringing off to get back to the email queue, Feaver again said it’s too early to know exactly how things will play out.

“We’re really in the first five minutes,” he said. Read more

Reading the newspaper

Washington Post appoints its first ‘reader representative’

Washington Post
Doug Feaver “will serve as an advocate for readers, responding to their questions and concerns,” the Post announced today.

Doug Feaver

Feaver was a career Postie — a reporter and editor for 29 years on the Business, Metro and National desks. He then became executive editor of in 1998 and retired in 2005. He stayed involved for a few more years with a blog called dot.comments that responded to reader comments on the site.

The Post just ended its ombudsman program, replacing it with this new reader representative. Unlike Patrick Pexton and other Post ombudsmen of the past, the reader rep is a Post employee (not an independent contractor) and will not have a regular weekly print column.

It seems the primary outlet of expression for Feaver and assistant reader representative Alison Coglianese will be a blog on Feaver is on Twitter (@feaverdb), but has barely used it since 2011.

Related: Washington City Paper writer appoints himself as the Post’s new ombudsman

PreviouslyPexton: Ombudsman can get answers from reporters who won’t answer readers Read more