In her final column, Siobhain Butterworth, reflects on the past three years as the readers’ editor of the Guardian. “Poring over the work of your fellow writers and subjecting it to public scrutiny can be an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved. Occasionally it is painful, but if there is resistance to the idea of an internal ombudsman (or woman) here at the Guardian I’ve seen little evidence of it.” A successor will be named in a few weeks.
Journalists often report on the wrong-doings of others, but the reporting is not always sufficient when it comes to questionable actions within their own ranks. News organisations have often been accused of maintaining a kind of professional solidarity when dealing with problems such as plagiarism and payoffs.
According to Franz Kruger, ombudsman at the Mail & Guardian, accusations of some journalists accepting money to spin reporting in favor of a political group may be a “Jayson Blair” moment for South African media.
Perhaps some of the toughest decisions facing editors for a story like the earthquake in Haiti involves choosing the photographs to accompany the text. Editors strive to achieve a balance between illustrating the scale of destruction and human suffering without being excessively graphic.
Local newspaper editors also take their demographics into consideration when choosing photos. When choosing an image for the front page of the newspaper, editors at the Salt Lake Tribune ask another question: How will parents be able to explain this photo to children?
In the end, the Tribune, like many other newspapers, Web sites and TV news programs, offered warnings of graphic content.
A number of Toledo Blade readers were outraged by a story about the tragic death of a woman who was struck by a driver going the wrong way on a highway. One reader suggested the newspaper “showed disrespectful indifference when it attempted to call the home of the woman’s parents to get a comment from her siblings.” Readers also did not think details about the woman’s marital status or the fact that she was a mother were pertinent to the story.
The Blade’s ombudsman agrees with readers, up to a point.