Monday, January 07, 2008

Can A Blog Hold A Paper Publicly Accountable Like An Ombudsman?

The Baltimore Sun just canned its ombud position and replaced it with a Q&A blog. Does that sound like an equal-value replacement?

A memor from publisher Tim Ryan, via Poynter:

As you know, communication with our readers is very important to us. Although we will not fill the public editor position, we will continue to take steps to ensure interaction with our readers:

We will launch a new blog on, offering readers the opportunity to ask questions and comment about our coverage. [Former public editor] Paul will moderate this blog and coordinate responses from the senior editors. We will post the reader comments and our responses on the blog each weekday.

Now here are two questions I have about this move:

One, since when is the paper's ombud a liason with readers? I always thought the public editor position was intended to hold the paper accountable by someone who fully understood its workings.

Two, is a Q&A blog really a match of a replacement for an ombud? Sure, a Q&A blog may help some give-and-take between the paper and readers (even though questions are edited and selected by the paper). But can it still hold the paper accountable? Not to deny Sun readers valid points, but is the kind of person that would respond to a blog Q&A the same kind of person that could make the points that an ombudsman does?

To me, it seems like there's an inadvertent bait-and-switch -- you know, like exchanging checks and balances for the impression of tech-savvy transparency -- and it seems like the Baltimore Sun took back some power it had given to entities not affiliated with the newsroom.

Just some food for thought. Happy 2008.

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