The Organisation of News Ombudsmen this month stepped up its digital act: with a new blog, a new site, and by dipping its toes into the Twitter waters (@NewsOmbuds).

It was definitely time for a revamp, ONO executive director Jeffrey Dvorkin told Journalism.co.uk. Someone told him that the old site was great "if it was 1987," he joked.

Dvorkin, based in Canada, believes that news ombudsmen should evolve their roles "to become cyber ombudsmen".

News ombudsmen, more common in North America than in the UK, are often known as readers' editors, or public editors, and act as an internally employed but independent arbiter between editorial team and readers - or users.

A lot has changed since the appointment of the first at the The Courier-Journal and The Louisville Times in 1967: these figures need to increasingly engage with social media, online comments and multimedia journalism, the ONO believes.

Connecting with social media, Dvorkin says, "is a way of streamlining the process so that the public can be part of the process that they haven't been before."

Plans have been warmly received, he adds: The ombudsmen in his association are "delighted there's another opportunity for us to talk about the issues  - and to talk about how social media is becoming the sharp end of the land in journalism." 

Dvorkin is also keen for independent or smaller publishers to join the association, and for journalists to be more transparent in their writing process: "Legacy media needs to learn about the inherent democracy of the internet".
Online-only publishers would benefit too, he said, from "some kind of standards that would allow them to enhance their credibility and deepen their sense of connectedness with their audiences".

In the UK specifically, newspapers aren't too well represented when it comes to independent readers' editors. The only publications known to have such positions are the Times (Sally Baker), the Observer (Stephen Pritchard) and the Guardian (Siobhain Butterworth, who has recently left but will be replaced).

Stephen Pritchard, who is currently president of ONO, thinks this is because of a particular culture within British newspapers - an unwillingness to admit to fault. "There is a classic resistance within Fleet Street," he said, "because that is often equated with a sign of being weak."

"I take the contrary view, that there's a virtuous circle with self-regulation and having somebody like me in the newsroom. It shows your readers that you're keen about accuracy: that you want to get the story right, that you're not omnipotent, and you can make mistakes like everybody else and when you do, you admit to them."

It's not just a resistance in the UK, he adds: members from Italy and Germany are also thin on the ground at the ONO. But elsewhere in the world, interest is growing he says - in India, for example.

There has also been increasing interest in Latin America and the Middle East, Dvorkin told Journalism.co.uk. 

Pritchard, while blogless at present, is hoping to increase his online activity in future. "I'm working more and more online - I'm hoping in the future to be blogging as well. I think this conversation goes on not just in print, but on the internet as well."

"The great thing about online journalism is that you show your workings." With linking to source, the reader has a "golden opportunity" to assess what they're reading and consuming, he says. The "dialogue" helps improve journalism: "now at the Guardian we see extraordinary examples of stories that are being bolstered by the input of the reader". 

But in a way, standards of journalism should be universal across publication type, he adds: "If you do journalism, I think the ethical end of it applies to whatever media you happen to employ."

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