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From the Ombudsman

John A. Hawkinson

The Tech now has an Ombudsman again, a position unfilled since December 2000. As Ombudsman, I serve as a liaison between the paper and the readership, advocating for readers. In this column, I'll try to cover concerns that have been raised recently about The Tech, both from without and from within, as well as my own views on how The Tech could use improvement. I come to this position from being a Critical Reader, rather than someone previously involved in The Tech; I hope to retain my external critical perspective.

At present, the world of journalism is abuzz with the news of the plagiarism on the part of former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, who falsified dozens of articles (see Sunday's New York Times); Blair's fraud makes us all rethink our trust of what we read in print, and makes us question the legitimacy of the journalistic establishment. The consequences of his fabrications were greater than simply misinforming the Times' readers. It seems an opportune time for The Tech to reexamine its own credibility and to consider strongly the opinions of the readership.

There is fair latitude assigned to the position of Ombudsman. Many established newspapers such as The Boston Globe and Washington Post have Ombudsmen; for more information, interested readers may consult http://www.newsombudsmen.org/.

I'd like to respond to some recent issues that have been some source of feedback to The Tech; The Tech generally does not print responses to letters, so many negative letters appear to go unanswered. In the future, expect this column to have more timely and detailed responses; this issue's column is my attempt at the backlog (mindful of limited space).

April 18 ["Advertising Question"]: Brad Friedman G asks why The Tech donated space for a Navy recruitment ad in the April 15 issue. In short: last-minute oversight. Public service announcements are placed to fill space by the Production department, without direct oversight from others. Previously, because of exactly these concerns, the editor in chief and the Production department had decided not to run military recruitment PSAs, but this one was placed accidentally. "Oops."

April 25 ["A complaint"]: Richard Barbalace '97 writes, concerned both about the omission of a ":)" from quoted electronic communication and the lack of verification of the quote with him ["Matchup Participants File Many Complaints," April 18]. The issue of quoting electronic communication (especially quoting zephyrs sent to public zephyr classes) will be further addressed in a future column. Richard was not contacted due to deadline pressure (the quote went in around 10pm), but The Tech is very concerned about quoting sources accurately. Here, the reporter considered the issue and concluded the ":)" was not integral to the meaning. Reasonable people disagree on this, and personally I think the emoticon ("smiley") was important, but it's easy to see how not everyone can take the same meaning away. Reader response on this subject is strongly encouraged.

May 2 ["A Rebuttal from Mech E"]: Professor Neville Hogan writes concerning factual errors in an Opinion piece published on April 25, suggesting the facts should have been checked prior to publication. The pertinent editors agree, and in fact, The Tech did recognize that it was appropriate to fact-check in this case, and multiple man-hours were spent doing so. Unfortunately, in hindsight, it is apparent that the level of fact-checking applied was insufficient. This has been a learning experience for The Tech, and the editors intend more fact-checking in similar future cases.

May 6 ["A Capella Article Unnecessary"]: William T. Hafer '03 questions why The Tech published the April 29 article ["Talks on Studio Access Get Tense"], noting the lack of direct quotes and the reluctance of a capella groups to speak to The Tech. As Ombudsman, I don't know if I can stress how important it is for The Tech to print news regardless of the cooperation of the principals; otherwise, The Tech is allowing external parties to control whether or not it publishes, questioning the independence of its journalism. Talking to the reporter of this article, he points out that the article broke news to a capella groups that was quite pertinent to their contract negotiations. It raised important questions that had not been considered by many of the participants. I think the article was both timely and beneficial.

The Ombudsman welcomes your feedback, to o@the-tech.mit.edu. The opinions in this column are his own.