3. Make It Public - An ombudsman’s job involves answering a ton of e-mails and phone calls. They are constantly communicating with members of the public, which is a very important function. Yet few realize the value they bring in this respect. An ombudsman is in many ways the face of an organization because he has to respond to comments and questions. That’s not true for all reporters and editors. A great way to enhance the value of this role is to make these exchanges public. (Though people should have the right to request a private exchange, of course.) Each ombudsman’s blog should have a regular mailbag feature where questions are posed and answered in public. They should also call upon editors and reporters to respond to readers on the blog. It’s about having a conversation and providing a forum for readers. This could help bring in more traffic, which is another way to create value. On top of that, a public archive of questions and answers could form the basis of a useful FAQ-like database of questions and answers. This eliminates the need for an ombud to answer the same question over and over again. If a frequently asked question suddenly has a new or updated answer, he can just update with a new blog post to make that information public.
4. Report Like An Ombudsman (As Well As A Journalist) - Most government ombudsmen publish an annual or twice-a-year report. This report reviews the highs and lows of the department or area that they oversee, makes recommendations, and also provides important statistics and data. News ombudsmen should take a page from their government counterparts. Keep and publish relevant statistics about errors, accuracy and corrections. (Some already do this.) Keep data about the most praised and the most controversial stories. Make this data public, while also providing perspective and recommendations not offered in a weekly column. This report will be of value to both the organization and the public because it enhances accountability and transparency and fosters discussion (which could take place on the blog!).
5. Share Your Skills - A journalist who did a stint as an ombudsman at a city paper once told me that every journalist should have to spend time in that job because it will help them understand how their work can have an effect on people, and how to deal with the public. Rather than try to make everyone in a newsroom spend a day or two on the ombud beat, it’s more realistic to have ombudsmen offer training and guidance when it comes to handling criticism and feedback from the public. Journalists increasingly respond to the community in comments, on Twitter and in other venues. They need training to help do this in a respectful, productive way. Who better than an ombudsman to help them navigate these waters?
Those are my suggestions for the modern ombud. Share yours in the comments.