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Visit to Taiwan June 15-19, 2009. The Role of the Ombudsman.

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Visit to Taiwan

June 15-19, 2009


The role of the ombudsman
The Role of the Ombudsman

There is no official description of the role of the ombudsman to which all news organizations adhere. It takes slightly different forms in different places. What follows are the best practices for this role that are most broadly agreed upon.


The ombudsman or woman should
The Ombudsman (or woman) should:

  • Be a person who is broadly respected within his or her field of professional endeavor, has a reputation for fairness, is non-partisan, understands the role of the press in a democracy and the interest of the public.

  • Provide the knowledgeable point of contact within a news organization where readers or viewers can ask questions about the news organization's journalism, seek explanations, voice complaints, demand answers, and contribute other comments and observations about journalistic content and procedures.

  • Approach the job only as a reader, viewer and consumer of news. The ombudsman should not play any internal, pre-publication role within the news organization and should not see or watch any story or broadcast until it appears in print or on the air.


  • Serve as the representative of the readers in sorting out and presenting their challenges to the news organization and in seeking responses from editors, reporters and producers.

  • Serve as a watchdog for the public on matters of corrections, accuracy, journalistic fairness and balance.

  • Look into these complaints and provide an INDEPENDENT assessment of these issues based upon the initial reader or viewer complaint, the response of the news organization, and his or her own investigation and conclusion about the matter. The key here is independence. The ombudsman must be assured of complete independence to make and publish his or her conclusions without interference by management of the news organization. The ombudsman must also defend the news organization when it is being unfairly or inaccurately faulted, criticized or attacked.


  • Hold the news organization accountable to its own stated journalistic standards, ethics and values, and, in fact, to all broadly accepted journalistic standards.

  • Publish a column regularly with your findings, and also publish a fair sampling of comments from readers or viewers about these issues. Make sure that the column is presented in a prominent way so that the public knows it is there, and where to find it.

  • Explain the role of the press and the news-gathering process to readers and viewers whenever necessary to make something understandable to the public.

  • Be free to write about questionable journalistic practices, based on your own experience and judgment, even if readers or viewers do not raise the issue.


  • Ideally, be a contract employee for a set period of years, not a member of the staff. The contract can be renewable upon mutual agreement for some additional time, but not a permanent assignment for any individual. To be effective, the ombudsman must be critical, when justified, of the news organization. It is best to have a contract where there is no benefit to being nice. This means a contracted payment with no bonuses, no promotions, and no joining of the staff when the contract is completed.


Ten principles of journalism
Ten Principles of Journalism not a member of the staff. The contract can be renewable upon mutual agreement for some additional time, but not a permanent assignment for any individual. To be effective, the ombudsman must be critical, when justified, of the news organization. It is best to have a contract where there is no benefit to being nice. This means a contracted payment with no bonuses, no promotions, and no joining of the staff when the contract is completed. *

  • 1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth

  • 2. Its first loyalty is to citizens

  • 3. Its essence is a discipline of verification

  • 4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover

  • 5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power

    * “The Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel


  • 6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise

  • 7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant

  • 8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional

  • 9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience

  • 10. Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news


Audiences turn to cable and web percentage change in audience 2007 to 2008 across media
Audiences Turn to Cable and Web compromise Percentage Change in Audience, 2007 to 2008, Across Media


Change in Ad Spending by Medium compromise *

2007 to 2008

* Charts from “The State of the News Media 2009” by PEJ


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