Providence Station Fosters Ombudsman Post

By Andrew Gauthier 

Broadcasting & Cable

Paul Giacobbe isn’t on-air much at WJAR Providence, but when he is, viewers–and station staffers–take particular notice. Both parties are prime players in Giacobbe’s Viewer’s Voice segments, which shine a light on WJAR reports that have stirred controversy with the station’s audience.

Giacobbe is the ombudsman at the Media General station, charged with making sure that WJAR’s reporting follows the rules of fairness, accuracy and balance. He may be the only station ombudsman in America, but at a time when local TV is increasingly looking to build viewer trust, some believe the role has never been more essential. “The ombudsman gives the station a greater amount of credibility,” Giacobbe says, “and gives people a sense of trust in the station.”

The ombudsman–a public advocate keeping an impartial watch on a media outlet’s reporting–is a rare breed. Among others, Clark Hoyt holds the Public Editor title at The New York Times while Andrew Alexander fills the ombudsman role at The Washington Post. But the crunch hitting the newspaper industry has made the position an unaffordable expense for many.

The post is less common in broadcasting. Don Ohlmeyer was named ESPN ombudsman in July, and Michael Getler does the same for PBS. More…