Kalb welcomes ombudsmen

When media consumers take issue with the way news is presented, they turn to the ombudsmen. On Monday night, former “Meet the Press” host Marvin Kalb turned to the ombudsmen to discuss their jobs and the state of the media.

On the radio talk show “The Kalb Report,” co-sponsored by GW and hosted by veteran journalist Kalb at the National Press Club, ombudsmen from four major media outlets discussed how they respond to viewers’ critiques and commented on major issues in contemporary coverage.

Deborah Howell, ombudsman for The Washington Post, described her role as an “independent contractor” in the media field.

Traditionally ombudsmen field questions, concerns or critiques about news coverage from an outlet’s audience in an independent column, or radio or television segment.

Jeffery Dvorkin, ombudsman for National Public Radio, said the most frequent complaint received from his listeners is a lack of perceived balance.

The panel agreed, however, that it is not the news agencies that are biased – rather, it is the news consumers themselves who have become increasingly polarized.

“Viewers are becoming too narrow. They are not looking at the broader programming,” said Michael Getler, ombudsman for the Public Broadcasting Service. “The focus moves from the issue to the journalism.”

The four featured ombudsmen, among them Bryon Calame from The New York Times, spoke about the recent riots in the Middle East over a Danish newspaper’s printing of political cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

The panel discussed their respective organizations’ choice not to reprint the cartoons. Dvorkin said he felt it would not have been appropriate for newspapers to reprint the cartoons, some of which linked Mohammed with terrorism.

“There is a value in euphemism, in helping people understand this, since it was the re-publication that caused the uproar,” Dvorkin said.

Getler disagreed by emphasizing freedom of the press.

“I am not defending the cartoonist,” Getler said. “But there is a free speech issue even if you are wrong and in bad taste.”

After a brief question – and – answer session following the panel discussion, each of the ombudsmen reminded the audience members to contact a news organization’s ombudsman if they ever take issue with coverage.

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