A recent special report by Editor & Publisher discussed the declining numbers of ombudsmen working for newspapers. In an effort to cut costs, many newspapers in the United States have been laying off ombudsmen.
Newspaper ombudsmen are public editors and reader representatives; they deal with readers' concerns and feedback.
Around ten newspapers have dropped their ombudsmen in the last twelve months. Since January the following papers have dropped their ombudsmen: The Sacramento Bee, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, The Sun of Baltimore, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Orlando Sentinel, The Hartford Courant, and The Palm Beach Post.
According to Gina Lubrano, former ombudsman at The San Diego Union-Tribune and executive secretary of the Organization of News Ombudsmen, "This is unprecedented, this dropping of ombudsmen left and right." She added that, "Papers are giving less to their readers."
Concerns have been raised as to whether newspapers will be able to remain interactive and in-touch with their readers. Charlotte Hall, Orlando Sentinel Editor, believes that "a paper without such a person can cover the needs of reader concerns better than some think". She added, "The point is to be accountable to the public, and some papers have done that with an ombudsman. On the other hand, a system that holds every editor directly accountable to readers also works very well. Papers can distance themselves too much from readers if everything goes to one person. There are real pros to having them and real pros not to having them."
Deborah Howell, ombudsman at The Washington Post since 2006, has a different opinion which she stated in the Editor & Publisher report, "The ombudsman is the one person the reader feels like they can go to if they have a problem with the paper. That is the person they know to go to."
Clark Hoyt, public editor of The New York Times, believes cutting such positions is a "sad development". He went on to state, "It closes an important avenue for readers to talk to newspapers and interact with newspapers, especially in a world we live in today where newspaper credibility is under challenge. Having a voice for readers is an important role."
The question remains whether newspapers will be able to tackle the important relationship between readers, editors and journalists without an ombudsman.
Sources: Editor & Publisher