Date of this Version
Hilligoss, W. (2014) The Diminishing Role of the Ombudsman in American Journalism (Master's thesis). University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.
News ombudsmen have been around since 1967 when two Louisville newspapers created a position that served as an independent accountability buffer between the newspapers and the publics they served. That position was called the news ombudsman. Its role was to respond to reader complaints, call out newspaper errors and explain behind-the-scenes news decisions, processes and more in a weekly or bi-weekly column in the Sunday paper. In 1970, the Washington Post created an ombudsman position and other news outlets followed over the next 30 years. The New York Times instituted its first ombudsman in 2003 after the Jason Blair plagiarism scandal and the ombudsman role became more popular around the country.
Then in the late 2000’s the news ombudsman position began to decline in the United States and continues to decline today. Once hovering at around 40-50, there are now only a dozen or so ombudsmen working in U.S. news organizations. Coincidentally, the declining ombudsmen numbers in the U.S. come at a time when opinion polls indicate the American people have growing trust issues with the news media, and are a sharp contrast to news ombudsmen positions internationally which are growing in number and popularity. This paper will use mixed methods surveys to explore why the ombudsman position is declining in America and if it can or should exist moving forward.
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