Wick Communications

Following @Sulliview

In journalism on September 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I’m not sure when the ombudsman became the public editor, but that is what The New York Times calls its public liaison these days.

The term ombudsman, of course, is not exclusive to news organizations. It can refer to a liaison between the people and many kinds of organizations. Wikipedia says it is an old Norse word. Which is something I did not know.

I became aware of ombudsmen at newspapers while still in college in the early 1980s. We had one at our college newspaper. In fact, that’s where I learned that transparency and reader advocacy sound a lot easier in theory than they turn out to be in practice.

The job of an ombudsman is an uncomfortable position, sort of like internal affairs in the police department. Usually, ombudsmen or public editors are journalists themselves. It can feel like a deceit if one of your own publicly chastises you for something you did last week.

Over the summer, the Times hired Margaret M. Sullivan for a four-year stint as its public editor. Sullivan has worked at her hometown Buffalo News for more than 30 years. Her commitment to engaging readers seems to be at least as important as her background. She pledges to be the moderator of a conversation between the paper and its readers and is already using hyperlinks in her frequent columns online. She says those columns will look beyond the Times’ journalism to the wider news world.

And that makes her someone we should all keep an eye on. I urge you to follow her on Twitter. Search for @Sulliview. Her columns are searchable at nyt.com as well.

Clay

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