Monday, October 24, 2005

# Posted 11:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ADVICE FOR A BUDDING OMBUDSMAN: On Sunday, Deborah Howell published the first column of her tenure as the WaPo's new ombudsman, replacing.

Howell brings to her post more than four decades of experience as an editor and correspondent. I'm not sure that this kind of one-dimensional background provides the best education for an ombudsman, however.

Although extensive experience as a journalist is necessary to ensure that an ombudsman understands journalism from the inside out and can speak with authority to the WaPo staff members she must criticize, I would prefer to have an ombudsman who has also been on the receiving end of the journalistic profession.

Someone, perhaps, who has worked as a congressional staffer or for a state government. Because in order to be an effective ombudsman, I think one should know first-hand what it is like to be misrepresented and misquoted.

But Ms. Howell can't change her past, so my objections are purely academic. Thus my advice to her is as follows: read a lot of blogs. Blogs from the left and blogs from the right.

In her inaugural column, Ms. Howell says that she reads three different newspapers a day, sometimes more. But newspapers tend to teach you as much about media criticism as White House briefings teach you about candor. By reading multiple newspapers, journalists tend to reinforce their own perception of their profession as one of noble Davids battling the politicians' Goliath.

By entering the blogosphere, Ms. Howell will discover a world where journalists benefit from no presumption of intelligence, good faith and competence. Naturally, bloggers are often unfair to their cousins in the print trades.

But the unpleasant truth is that only when journalists see themselves being treated unfairly by bloggers, do they begin to understand how the subjects of their coverage feel about them.
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