From the ombudsman’s desk
It’s been a little more than a month since I took on my new duties as ombudsman for Colorado Mountain News Media. In that time, I’ve handled more than 50 phone calls, e-mails, letters and other random communications from readers of our four daily newspapers.Among the most recent was one that brought me up short. It came from a reader asking why the heck I hadn’t written any ombudsman columns. That’s right: It was a complaint to the ombudsman about the ombudsman.Since we don’t have an ombudsman’s ombudsman, I handled the complaint myself. I gave myself a sharp reprimand for my failure to communicate and ordered myself to write this column. So, here we are – a report to you, our reader, my boss.The items that have been referred to me so far by readers have covered a wide range of issues.Many of them were relatively minor. Not unimportant, by any means – just minor.These included (among many others) complaints about: papers that weren’t delivered; the layout of TV listings; letters to the editor that had not been printed; events that were left out of calendar listings; the accuracy and relevance of our rainfall statistics.I have tracked most of these concerns back to the appropriate people. I have, for example, given one reader the cell phone number of her paper’s distribution manager and told her to call him directly any time her paper doesn’t show up on her doorstep. I have tracked down missing letters to the editor. I have found that one publisher was already working to reformat the TV listings. I’ve been told there’s not a darn thing we can do about our rainfall statistics.Beyond these items, there have been a number of much more serious concerns. Maybe I should jump to the far end of the range and mention that there have, of course, been messages from people who wanted to be sure I knew that our papers were “biased,” “slanted” “ad rags” that were either “hopelessly liberal,” “enslaved to local businesses” or just “too sensationalistic.”With broad-brush complaints like these, there’s not much I can do except thank readers for their concern and suggest they give me some concrete examples to work with.And then there have been a number of reasonable, well-founded, specific concerns.A lot of these involved the recent local elections. In some towns, there were serious issues and some people felt that some of our coverage was not even-handed.In those cases, I contacted the editors and reporters involved. And I generally found them more than willing to cover the other side of the story – often using the complaining readers as sources for those follow-up stories.There have been similar concerns about non-election stories and issues. Again, I have generally relayed those concerns to the reporters, editors and publishers involved. The result has often been an extended dialog – sometimes just between me and the papers, sometimes with the complaining reader joining in.In fact, even as I have been writing this column, I have been taking time out to exchange e-mails with an editor and a reporter about a reader’s concern with one recent story. We’ve all agreed that the coverage was a little off, mostly as a result of deadline pressures. We decided no correction to the published story was required, but that we need to be more careful in the future.That really has been my main approach so far. I haven’t been looking to whip anyone in public. I’m more interested in making sure we see the error of our ways and are trying to avoid making the same mistakes again. When appropriate, I try to bring the concerned readers in on that process.So far, none of the issues raised have seemed to require any public rehashing of the issues in an ombudsman’s column. But I am quite certain that, as we move ahead, there will be issues that need to be aired more widely – and you’ll read about them right here.Andy Stone is the ombudsman for Colorado Mountain News Media. You can call him at 866-557-6397 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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