Evening Star appoints its own independent ombudsman

By Dominic Ponsford

An independently funded ombudsman has been appointed by the Ipswichbased Evening Star to hold its journalism to account.

Suffolk’s former chief fire officer, Malcolm Alcock, has been given
a monthly column with complete editorial freedom to criticise the
Archantowned daily.

He said: “There are occasions when people are
not satisfied with the newspaper’s response and then I can look into
their complaint and report my findings in my column.

“My job is
not to bash the paper or its journalists. I hope to be a critical
friend, pointing out when things could have been handled better.”

In
his first column, Alcock dealt with a complaint from the mother of a
pedestrian killed in a road accident. The Evening Star had published a
photograph of the accident victim’s body covered with a blanket, which
Alcock said meant “the matter was not dealt with sensitively”.

While
the picture did not break the Editors’ Code of Practice, Evening Star
editor Nigel Pickover admitted it was not the paper’s normal policy to
publish such photos and wrote to the bereaved woman apologising for any
upset caused.

Pickover said of the ombudsman scheme: “It’s all about a local paper being locally accountable.”

He explained that the ombudsman’s expenses were being independently funded by local businesses.

“Malcolm
is a respected civic figure who is his own person and who understands
from his own dealings with the press over the years how the press
works,” said Pickover. “We are the first regional newspaper to deal
with complaints in this way – having an independent voice,
independently funded with a guaranteed column every month that we can’t
change.

“Every organisation gets complaints and a good way to judge an organisation is looking at how they deal with them.”

Pickover added: “If you handle a complaint well, you can end up with a friend rather than a foe at the end of it.

“It should also be interesting for our reporters because they know their standards are going to be called into question.”

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