What do ombudsmen do?

Interest in ombudsmen has increased in response to all the polls showing that readers do not hold newspapers in particularly high regard. This problem is hardly a novel one. Similar circumstances led Ralph Pulitzer to establish a Bureau of Accuracy and Fair Play at his New York World in 1913. According to a 1916 issue of American Magazine, Pulitzer had become concerned about the increasing blurriness between “that which is true and that which is false” in the paper. He had reason for concern. One of the questionable practices uncovered by the bureau’s first director, Isaac D. White, was the routine embellishment of stories about shipwrecks with fictional reports about the rescue of a ship’s cat. After asking the maritime reporter why a cat had been rescued in each of a half-dozen accounts of shipwrecks, White was told, “One of those wrecked ships had a cat, and the crew went back to save it. I made the cat the feature of my story, while the other reporters failed to mention the cat, and were called down by their city editors for being beaten. The next time there was a shipwreck there was no cat but the other ship news reporters did not wish to take chances, and put the cat in. I wrote the report, leaving out the cat, and then I was severely chided for being beaten. Now when there is a shipwreck all of us always put in a cat.” —Cassandra TateWhat do ombudsmen do? (Organization of News Ombudsmen)