Sunday, December 28, 2008

FINAL THOUGHTS OF AN OMBUDSMAN

Deborah Howell, Washington Post - My term as ombudsman ends with this column. . . Journalism has changed tremendously since my early days covering police and courts in Corpus Christi, Tex. . . Journalism is better than it was in my early days, and changes in technology have opened up a new world. My worry is that journalists aren't as connected to readers as they were in the days of my youth, when the city's newspaper was the equivalent of the public square. Then, reporters tended to be folks who often hadn't graduated from, or even attended, college, and they weren't looking to move to bigger papers. They knew the community well, didn't make much money and lived like everyone else, except for chasing fires and crooks.

Now journalists are highly trained, mobile and, especially in Washington, more elite. We make a lot more money, drive better cars and have nicer homes. Some of us think we're just a little more special than some of the folks we want to buy the paper or read us online. That's a mistake. Readers want us to be smart and tough and for the newspaper to read that way, but they don't want us to think we're better than they are. . .

An unpleasant fact about journalists is that we can be way too defensive. We dish it out a lot better than we take it. It's not that we have thin skin; we often act as though we have no skin and bleed at the slightest touch. . .

The worst part of my job as official internal critic hasn't been dealing with readers, though that has been both daunting and rewarding. Taking those complaints to reporters and editors has been the biggest challenge. I'm grateful to those here who took them seriously. . .

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