Rudderless Miami Herald -Six months since Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos left for NPR, Herald STILL hasn't replaced him -or done much of value
Nearly four years ago, I wrote my first column as ombudsman. This is my last. I leave having learned a lot about you, the readers. I leave having failed you, too, in one promise.I learned foremost that you care — about your community and your newspaper. You write a daily avalanche of e-mails to me and others at The Miami Herald or post comments online, often with passion, over issues in South Florida and the state.When you don’t like how your point of view was treated in an article, you often threaten to cancel your subscription. Few of you actually do, at least for reasons of coverage. If anything, your reaction shows that you are reading the newspaper. And while most of my columns have been critical of something The Herald has done, you and I share this secret: For every article we disagree with, there are many, many more that we like. No other local news outlet keeps us as well informed.I also learned your hottest buttons: Cuba, Israel, immigration, taxes, gay rights. And, of course, party politics. Your antennas are acute for any indication that The Herald might be tilting pro-Republican or Democrat.But whatever your political inclination, the stories you like the most are investigations that ferret out local corruption. As The Herald has redefined itself through smaller staffs, shrinking paper size, and online expansion, you have overwhelmingly implored that it continue investing in the investigations that it does so well. After that, you most like local stories, though the Caribbean Basin and Middle East are local for you, too. You are sophisticated and cosmopolitan.Few places in the country are so interesting. I am leaving to take up a new post as ombudsman of National Public Radio. I look forward to the political sensitivity of that role as NPR and the media nationally wrestle with how to finance responsible journalism and serve communities. But I will be sad to leave you.So, how did I let you down? I announced in the beginning that in passing judgment on The Herald’s coverage — on whether it was one-sided, for example, or unfair or incomplete — I would tell you my position on the issue being covered in the original article. It was a revolutionary idea. Here is what I wrote in my first column:“I’ll tell you upfront, and I’ll tell you my biases, for in the end what I write will necessarily be my own reasoned judgment. But I promise you it will be as fair as I can make it, never cynical, but sometimes irreverent. I strongly believe in good professional journalism, but I don’t think it’s Holy. You are welcome to agree, disagree or demand to kill the ump.”That first column had to do with the coverage of the Gomez brothers, two young Colombians who were popular students but unauthorized immigrants detained for deportation. Their saga and the proposed Dream Act that might legalize them remains ongoing. Once a Colombian illegal immigrant myself, I wrote that I was sympathetic toward legalizing the unauthorized immigrants in the country.Still, I criticized The Herald’s coverage for being slanted in favor of the boys. It largely overlooked legitimate questions held by many readers about the fairness of the Dream Act and legalizing the brothers.But if I lived up to my promise in that first column, I found as the months went by that to state my position on the issues distracted from my critique of the coverage. I became the issue, instead of the reporting and editing by The Herald. As a mechanical matter, it also made the columns too long, especially if I wanted to explain the nuances of my views.I didn’t make a conscious decision to stop the practice, but my promise somehow just slipped away.I still wonder if there is a way to revive the idea, not just for ombudsmen, but for reporters.We know that journalists are human and have opinions and political preferences. There also is no such thing as pure objectivity. We all see through the lens of our upbringing.Most reporters stretch mightily to set aside their biases and follow basic journalistic rules. Editors further scrub stories for objectivity and fairness.But we as a society are now in a cynical “post modern” age in which we have been taught to “deconstruct” articles in search of the writer’s supposed underlying intent. Trust in the news media is low. Would transparency about a reporter’s personal views help recover trust then? Is there a practical way to make it work? Or would it be a distraction from the news itself?I don’t have the answers but would appreciate knowing your parting thoughts. As the news media fragments into many slivers of opinion, we risk fragmenting as a society and a nation. We need to have at least a common base of facts.Thank you for the privilege of having been allowed into your homes and your considerations these past four years.
Reading this Romensko column from earlier today about the relative state of the Washington Post that I read in print everyday for 13 years, and have read just about everyday online in the seven years since moving back to South Florida, I once again got to thinking about the Miami Herald and their part-time ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, a sometime subject on my blog, along with former Herald Exec. VP and Editor Anders Gyllenhaal, now up in McClatchy's HQ in D.C.Three weeks into 2011, the Herald's ombudsman still doesn't have a print column that runs once a week, or even runs fairly regularly, since it's often many weeks in-between his essays.Today is January 24th, but his last column was January 2nd:Educators weigh in on Herald’s coverageAnd the last one before that was... November 28th:Ombudsman: Are teachers treated fairly by The Miami Herald?And before that, October 10th:(Three columns in 14 weeks.)Hmm-m... it's as if Schumacher-Matos is filing his columns via 'a slow boat from China,' which is yet another example of the Herald continuing to NOT properly use technology and resources available to them, to add to an already LONG list of negatives that readers I know are definitely keeping track of.For whatever reason, one that has never been fully explained to readers, Schumacher-Matos STILL doesn't have a blog like many other newspaper ombudsmen, there's STILL no designated space on their website for him, with either his name, the word "Ombudsman" or an icon, to make him easier to find for readers.In fact, you STILL have to use the search function to find his most recent column.And unlike has been the tradition with the NYT's Ombudman column, which links directly to the stories that are being hashed-over, so that readers can see for themselves what it originally said, the Herald has no links and the original stories are usually locked in the paid archives discussed because... yes, it's six weeks between his columns.If you never saw the article being discussed the first time, you're out of luck and have to rely on him being accurate in his description.Is that really any way to run a railroad in 2011?
My fourth-floor office looks out over the main entrance to The Post. I often glance across 15th Street and see tourists taking photos of the newspaper's iconic nameplate. For so many, The Post has a reputation for journalistic excellence. Will it endure?I've pondered that question while crafting this column, my last as ombudsman. So, too, have many of the tens of thousands who e-mailed or called during my two-year term as the readers' representative. A dominant theme has been that The Post's journalistic quality has declined. It's a view I share.