Representing the readers
The purpose of this column is to introduce myself. Since this column is running in all four Colorado Mountain News Media daily papers ” the Summit Daily News, the Vail Daily, the (Glenwood) Post Independent and The Aspen Times ” I realize that some of you probably already know me. I’ve been writing for The Aspen Times on and off since 1974 and, more recently, for the Post Independent as well.
But even those who know me (for better or worse) may still need this introduction, since I am now taking on a brand new job ” new for me, new for our company.
Starting this week, I am CMNM’s news ombudsman.
I can imagine a lot of you saying “Huh?” right about now.
And I can imagine others saying, “Whatever. Who cares?”
So let me jump in right now and tell you that you need to care ” because I will be working for you. (Don’t worry, I won’t be coming to you for my paycheck.)
A newspaper ombudsman is the readers’ representative. It will be my job to stand up for your rights, express your concerns ” and make sure your voice is heard.
In the simplest sense, an ombudsman is a newspaper’s “complaint department” ” although I have to admit that when I put it that way I wonder why I took the job.
But still, if I may pursue my metaphor just a little further, the fact is that we ” as newspapers, as an industry ” need a “complaint department.”
We have the power to exert tremendous influence over people’s lives, intentionally or unintentionally. We do that by reporting, or not reporting or, sadly, misreporting the news about events in our communities.
We ruffle some feathers. We stir up some trouble. We hurt some feelings. Sometimes the ruffling and the stirring and even the hurting are appropriate and necessary.
Sometimes they’re unnecessary. Sometimes they’re inappropriate. And sometimes they’re the result of us simply getting our facts wrong.
I know I don’t have to tell you that we make mistakes. I hope I don’t have to tell you now much we hate making those mistakes.
It will not be my job to keep mistakes from happening. All our papers have reporters and editors and proofreaders who work hard to prevent mistakes every single day. My job will be to listen when readers complain about mistakes and to look into those mistakes. When appropriate, I will work to get those mistakes corrected. When appropriate, I will try to explain to readers how those mistakes happened. And when appropriate, I will work with our editors so they can try to prevent the same mistakes from happening again.
I used “when appropriate” three times in a row in the previous paragraph. That’s because sometimes I may disagree with a reader who claims we have made a mistake or erred in our judgment ” and when that happens I may, again when appropriate, explain how I reached that conclusion.
I suspect that one reason I have been given this new job is that I have been working in journalism for so long around here ” as reporter, editor, managing editor, publisher ” that I have made just about every kind of mistake anyone can imagine. I’ve made small mistakes and I’ve made huge mistakes. There have been times when I haven’t wanted to go to the office because I’m so embarrassed by what I’ve done. And there have been times when I’ve dug my heels in and refused to admit I was wrong ” even when I knew darn well I was wrong … and so did everyone else in town. And in the end those were the times when I wound up feeling the worst.
But I know that as bad as I may have felt about the mistakes I made, the people who were hurt by those mistakes felt even worse.
And that’s why I think it’s important in this new job for me to help people get some satisfaction when they feel they have been hurt by mistakes in our newspapers.
Now, one thing I need to add very quickly right here is that my new job is not meant to change anyone’s current ability to talk directly to the reporters and editors at our newspapers. In each community, at each newspaper, the local staff ” editors, reporters and publishers ” are your most natural first contacts when you think things have gone wrong. But if you aren’t happy with the response you get when you contact them ” or if you just don’t feel like talking to them for any reason whatsoever, then give me a call (or a letter or an e-mail).
I’ll be there for you and I promise to do my best to represent your concerns ” fairly, honestly and strongly.
That’s my job.
Andy Stone is the Colorado Mountain News Media ombudsman.
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I’m not often given to public displays of affection, but on the morning of Monday, July 19, I felt it necessary to give an old and dear friend a proper send off.