Monday, September 17, 2007

Herald introduces Ombudsman

The Herald has finally created a permanent ombudsman's position. It's been a long time in coming. Other, more high profile papers, have had ombudsmen for some time now. The idea is to give the readers an avenue to have their concerns with the paper addressed. We shall see how willing the Herald is to publish criticisms of itself. If past performance is an indicator of future performance I would not hold my breath.

The new Ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, gives a brief biography of himself as part of his first column.

I have more than 30 years' experience as a journalist. This includes being a reporter for The New York Times and an editor for The Wall Street Journal, two supposed extremes on the ideological fever chart. I don't think I'm schizophrenic, but maybe masochistic. I launched my own chain of Spanish-language dailies in Texas four years ago, just as newspaper advertising began to drop. We cut the papers back to weeklies earlier this year, and I have returned to New York. I lost money. So I know the many issues newspapers face -- intimately.

...I am Hispanic, born in Colombia. I also was an illegal alien. My mother was naturalized, but I had failed to declare my own citizenship when I was 14, as the law required. I was 21 when an Army recruiter told me I had to leave the country. I went to court and was allowed to declare late. I joined the Army and went to Vietnam.

No, I am not a Miamian. But I am an in-law. My wife was born in Cuba and her family lives in Miami. I was married at St. Michael's, have a daughter born at Mercy and another baptized at St. Kevin's. Still, I am mostly an outsider, which, frankly, is helpful. South Florida's politics are consuming. Everybody has an opinion about The Miami Herald.
Amazingly, the topic of this former illegal immigrant's first column as the supposedly impartial ombudsman for a paper with a lot of baggage is illegal immigration. Only in Miami, only the Herald, I guess.

The topic at hand is the case of the Gomez brothers, a pair of illegal immigrants who were slated to be deported despite the fact they had made the United States their home for many years. Readers apparently complained that the Herald's coverage seemed biased toward the boys' plight and did not balance their story with views of those who oppose illegal immigration.

Of MHMC's coverage, Schumacher-Matos says:
...I find that both The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald have been too one-sided in their news columns.

The fundamental question is whether children who are culturally American, and educated in U.S. schools to be American, should pay for the sins of their parents. It is a compelling and important issue, with valid arguments on many sides. But of the 25 Miami Herald stories in the paper and online since the first one on July 27, all are written from the point of view of the Gomez boys, their classmates, other undocumented youths and supporting immigrant groups.
Schumacher-Matos then goes on to make what seem to be excuses for the one sided coverage by saying that other articles about the immigration bills that have failed to pass congress covered the opposing viewpoints.

The ombudsman then explains the TMH executive editor's take on his findings (does the new ombudsman need prior approval from the executive editor before he can publish his opinion?):
Executive News Editor Anders Gyllenhaal, upon being presented with my findings on the specific Gomez-related coverage, said, ``I think it is probably fair to say that the stories could have had more context in places.''

One obstacle, he said, has been that major opposition groups and politicians have not spoken out on the Gomez case. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency charged with the case, mostly declined to comment, he said. Still, more insistent reporting could have been done.
That seems like a week argument to me. Whenever the Herald wants to find an opinion that opposes that of another notable immigrant group in Miami, it never has trouble finding it.

ENH doesn't escape the scrutiny of the ombudsman:
El Nuevo Herald was more one-sided. Curiously, it ran fewer stories, and shorter ones, than the English paper. Of the 13 El Nuevo stories, some original and some translated, almost no opposition position was reported after the first day. A photo box on Aug. 2 on page 3 showed Juan's classmates and went so far as to say, in Spanish: ''Congratulations to these loyal friends!''
And he finishes with this curious note:
The Spanish paper is editorially independent of the English one, and it is an open question to what extent its readers disagree with El Nuevo Herald's immigration coverage. This raises separate questions about what in the profession is called ''community journalism,'' a subject for a future column.
You'll remember that the topic advocacy in journalism came up during the Marti Moonlighters scandal. The term was used to minimize the importance of Hispanic journalism as if it were some sort of mutant cousin to "real" journalism. Perhaps it is, and perhaps it's just a more honest approach than pretending that there is such a thing as media objectivity.

I may be wrong, but so far it seems like this new ombudsman is selling soft soap. But you can rest assured that Herald Watch will be, well, watching.

H/T: 26th Parallel

1 comment:

asombra said...

Anders Gyllenhaal:

``I think it is PROBABLY fair to say that the stories COULD have had more context IN PLACES.''

For crying out loud, what is this shit? Some kind of Scandinavian humor? Who does this guy think he's kidding? And I'm supposed to trust, let alone respect him, for talking as if the public were retarded? Somebody get him a job as spin doctor for John Edwards. I expect he'd be a natural.

As for the ombudsman business, I expect it's primarily cosmetic. If the Herald blew off Hoyt, it can most certainly blow off its own employee. In other words, the Herald ombudsman, when push comes to shove, will do the same as the Washington Post ombudsman in the recent case of the incredibly vile anti-Cuban Oliphant cartoon: little or nothing.