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COLUMN

The Ombudsman A Reader’s Advocate

You’ve sent e-mails, marched into The Tech office waving copies of the paper, and even protested outside the newsstands in Lobby 7: you are readers dissatisfied with this paper.

Despite the best efforts of its staff and editors, The Tech has managed at times to offend, insult, or otherwise disappoint its readership. A professor once compared this paper to Pravda following what he considered to be unfair coverage of one of his projects; it seemed like most of campus wrote letters accusing Stacey E. Blau ’98 of prejudice, poor judgment, and worse following her infamous column lambasting fraternities [“Hypocritical Fraternities Embarrass MIT,” Feb. 25, 1997].

As journalists, the members of The Tech are required to make difficult decisions each day and as human beings they sometimes make mistakes. Even though the The Tech strives to be fair, even-handed, and precise in its coverage of campus issues, its members cannot be expected to perform infallibly.

The Tech can disappoint its readers in less dramatic ways as well: crossword puzzle solutions are occasionally forgotten, names are misspelled, photos don’t match their captions.

When these errors, minor or otherwise, have arisen in the past, readers have had no recourse but to contact the very writers and editors whose decisions led to their dissatisfaction. Writing letters or guest columns has always been an option (and will continue to be), but readers wishing to speak with a neutral member of the paper’s staff have been left without recourse.

To address this shortcoming, The Tech has created the position of ombudsman. In his New Political Dictionary, William Safire defines an ombudsman as “an official intermediary between citizen and government to counteract the delay, injustice, and impersonality, of bureaucracy.” For the curious, the word itself comes from the Old Swedish, umbud, which means proxy. In the context of this paper, I like to think of myself as the readers’ advocate.

I am a member of The Tech’s staff (and was elected to this position by its managing board), but I hope to serve on behalf of the readership of the paper rather than on behalf of those who produce it. I am here to listen to your concerns and complaints regarding The Tech.

While I don’t have the power to influence the content of the paper directly, through this column (which is not edited by anyone besides myself) and my position as a member of the managing board, I will be able to make your concerns heard by the editorial board.

Ombudsman is a new role for me and a new position in The Tech. In the past I have held the positions of writer, news editor, and editor in chief: I have made my share of journalistic errors and hope that my experience can now be used to benefit you.

I don’t expect to able to stop the inevitable gaffes and conflicts that arise when the same close-knit community is the source and consumer of news. As ombudsman, I can only hope to speed the resolution of such conflicts and limit the damage they inflict both on members of the community and on this paper’s reputation.

The next time The Tech fails to live up to your expectations, whether it’s because the crossword is too easy or the comics are too raunchy or for any other reason, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Frank Dabek is The Tech’s Ombudsman and a former Editor in Chief. He can be contacted at ombudsman@the-tech.mit.edu or frank@mit.edu with questions, concerns, or complaints about this paper.