An ombudsman could make it as easy as H.L. Mencken, the legendary editor-in-chief and columnist of The Baltimore Sun, did in the 1910s—just before a rival paper established history’s first press ombudsman’s office. The New York World established a Bureau of Accuracy and Fair Play in 1913 to receive complaints from readers. To reply to people who complained to the Sun, Mencken had postcards printed with the simple writing on the back: “Dear Sir or Madam. You May Be Right» – You may be right.
On the other hand, readers with their complaints do not always make it easy for an ombudsman. Although they neither have to nor should. In some cases, audience feedback is sober and matter-of-fact, in others it is aggressive and sweeping. Isolated reactions, sometimes completely unfiltered and below the waistline, also arrive anonymously, for example at the hands of the “media whores”.
In 2022, the ombudsman of Tamedia German-speaking Switzerland received around 210 reactions, a similar number to the year before. Not all reactions are complaints in the narrower sense and relate to journalistic content or administrative issues such as subscriptions or mail delivery. Among the feedback, there is also some that would be better off with a psychological or social advisory body. The ombudsman is not responsible for relationship or tax issues.
The readership does not always distinguish between news and comments and takes the former for the latter and vice versa.
Two years ago it was the reporting on various aspects of the corona pandemic that triggered a noticeable number of complaints, but for 2022 there is no topic that would have particularly annoyed readers: neither the war in Ukraine nor the football World Cup in Qatar, the gender-equitable language or the Federal Council elections in November. There was also hardly any talk of fake news.
What remains is the realization that the readership does not always distinguish between news and commentary and takes the first for the second and vice versa. What has also remained is the irritation with regard to the moderation of the numerous online comments from websites. Depending on the situation, you are accused of one-sidedness, lack of transparency or censorship. Commentators would like to know how editors define “a fair and objective discussion culture” and ask themselves what exactly about their reactions is “defamatory, insulting or discriminatory”, as it is called in the case of the rejection of an opinion.
Disgruntled readers can only find solace in a realization that the ombudsman of the Kansas City Star and Times once formulated. Donald Jones noted that customers could always bring sour milk back to the store for a new pack or a refund. But that’s not how it works with newspapers, he teased: “You’re lucky if they don’t just pour the milk over your head.”
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– Trick and Treat from 2022
What has been on the minds of readers over the past year.
Published today at 2:18 p.m