In his biweekly media column for the Rocky Mountain News, Dave Kopel never hesitates to slag the Rocky itself for bias and sloppy reporting. And the Rocky, it has gone too long without saying, covers itself in celestial glory by printing Kopel, which it's been doing since 2001.
What makes the conservative attorney and head of the Independence Institute's criticism of the paper so valuable (besides its conservatism) is that it comes from outside the Rocky. Is there another daily that allows this sort of behavior? None I can think of, and certainly not those
that have ombudspersons.
Kopel has an advantage over any ombud: he's not an employee of the newspaper he criticizes, so the Denver Newspaper Agency, which runs both the Post and the News, has no hold over him. They could drop his column, of course, but the seriously prolific Kopel, a glance at his archives suggests, would write it anyway, just for the exercise.
Compare Kopel's situation to that of, say, the recently resigned "public editor" (now there's a good use of scare quotes) of the New York Times, Daniel Okrent. Can you think of anything of substance he ever called the Times on? That is, before he left the job firing both barrels at Paul Krugman? Donald Luskin couldn't.
So why don't more papers have someone like Kopel writing a truly independent media column? It's not doing the Rocky any good, it's true, but at this point it certainly can't hurt.
Update: PBS plans to hire ombudsman. "Jacoba Atlas, PBS senior vice president for programming, said the service wanted to create a better conduit for feedback. 'I think what an ombudsman will do is eliminate any perception that anyone might have that we don't respond to criticism,' she said." Yeah, that'll do it. (via Joel, commenting at Wednesday's miscellaneous links post on LGF)
Update II: Both PBS and the LA Times say "ombudsman" while I use "ombudsperson." Scary parallel dimension stuff going on there.
Update III: Romenesko: TUESDAY, JUNE 21, 2005
What the appointment of a CPB ombud has accomplished NPR.org "It has sown doubts (or reinforced existing ones) among many listeners (and viewers) that there is something fundamentally wrong at NPR and PBS," writes NPR ombud Jeffrey Dvorkin. "But these doubts are based on impressions, innuendo and hearsay evidence." There's nothing wrong with questioning the practices of journalism, he says, but declaring a priori that there is bias, as [Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman Kenneth] Tomlinson has, contradicts the high standards of public broadcast stewardship that CPB has always advocated."