TRAINING THE WATCHDOGS
I sort of drew up the specifications for the job [ombudsman] back in 1970. And I thought that what the paper needed out of this character was firstly a person who would monitor the paper every day for fairness and balance and whatever professional standards we were trying to uphold. Secondly, that this character should be available to the public to deal with complaints about the news columns or the editorial page.
-- Richard Harwood, Washington Post editor, ombudsman, columnist
Assurance of the broadest freedom of information, whether assisted by the government, discovered by the journalist, or validated by the judiciary -- a kind of separation and balance of powers in itself -- requires a comity on all sides, an acceptance of common principles, and the knowledge that those who are involved in the communications of a democracy play a major role in its governance. That mandate introduces the last component -- at least in this rendering -- of unfinished First Amendment business: the ethical responsibility of the press. In previous chapters the subject of ethical codes, press criticism, and public disenchantment has been examined. The point to make now concerns the pragmatically beneficial fallout from a policy of responsible, accountable journalism. Virtue in this regard has not been its own reward -- not, that is, in the minds of bottom-line managers, cynical editors, and careerist reporters. For them the rewards must be more immediate in the highly charged mass media universe, although awareness of the long-term benefits has been growing substantially since the late 1980s. Seminars and symposia are organized more frequently at universities and among the large number of journalistic associations. Ombudsmen are functioning more visibly and effectively at more than thirty important newspapers. There is even one surviving news council that was formed in Minnesota and that has carried out, since 1971, statewide monitoring of the press. Most papers, daily or weekly, are learning to use letters from readers,