What’s up, Deb?

Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell recently offered some thoughts on her five months on the job for the Post’s internal critique board:

    After being here five months, I’m beginning to figure out a rhythm to this job, but my learning curve is still pretty steep. After some miscues in communication, here’s some FAQ on how I operate. Feedback is encouraged.

    Q. Have you finally learned which suburbs are in Virginia and which are in Maryland? R.B. Brenner and Mike Semel

    A. Yes, indeed. Finally.

    Q. When we get a forwarded complaint from you, what should we do about it?

    A: Don’t assume that I think you have done something wrong. If I say “FYI,” it means just that. If I say that I think it should be answered, please either do so and copy me on it or let me know that you don’t want to do it and we’ll talk. I usually send to the reporter and editor and will take an answer from either. If I have a real problem, I come to talk in person.

    Q. What if a letter asks for a correction?

    A. If it’s a pretty straight-forward and simple error, I send to the reporter and/or editor and check to see if a correction appears. If it’s a matter of intrepretation, that goes to an editor. If the editor and I disagree, I might write about it. That’s happened a couple of times.

    Q. Do you forward every complaint you get?

    A. I only send ones that I think you should know about. If there’s a blog campaign on, I will let reporter and editors know and perhaps send a few to let you get the flavor. I probably got 50 e-mails about a Shailagh Murray story (see below) and sent her only a few.

    Q. Do you answer any complaints yourself?

    A. Many, all the time. I know enough about journalism to tell someone when I know they’re flat wrong. I also answer simple questions, forward requests and always forward compliments.

    Q. What do you do if we don’t answer e-mails you think should be answered?

    A. I track you down. I am developing a “pending” system that tells me when someone has been left hanging.

    Q. Do you answer all e-mail?

    A. No, I’d be further behind than I always am. I try to answer all local e-mail from Post subscribers. I also get increasing amounts of e-mail for the website and forward it, though I don’t keep a pending file. I also don’t blow off Post website readers if they have good points.

    Q. Do you like to get comments on your column?

    A. By all means, I generally pass it around pre-publication for those who are either mentioned in the column or have concerns with it. I’m a new columnist and would love to get critiques.

    Q. Are you ever get caught up?

    A. No.

    Q. How’s it going?

    A. It’s both exhilirating and exhausting. I love being back in a big newsroom again.