Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
There is no more often squandered opportunity in American journalism than the newspaper ombudsman’s. They get free, absolutely unfettered rein to explain how and why the news is gathered and written—and to terrorize a newsroom in the process. But all too often, they put out head-slapping bullshit such as “While reporters must be diligent about not accepting unneeded anonymous quotes, it is aggravating when sources paid with public money hide behind anonymity.” Duh. That, of course, comes from the Washington Post’s latest dud of an ombudsman, Deborah Howell. So when the New York Times—after, you know, that whole Jayson Blair thing—hired its first “public editor” in 2003, damned if it didn’t find a live one. Unlike Howell and her ilk, Daniel Okrent hasn’t spent most of his career inside daily-paper newsrooms. Instead, he spent most of his career inside the Time/Life megalith and penning three books (including Nine Innings, a classic of baseball writing). The man knows there are a lot of different ways to do journalism. So when he took on such topics as the proliferation of “experts” in Times copy, a nigh-on-useless corrections box, or an unpopular arts-listings overhaul—or even overzealous anonymous sourcing—you didn’t get the sense he was just reading his pronouncements out of Ombudsmanning for Dummies. In Public Editor #1, Okrent has collected the columns from his roughly 18-month stint at the Times, and added a bit of postgame commentary—for instance, explaining just how pissed-off people can get when you blithely acknowledge that the Times is institutionally liberal. And if Okrent’s book isn’t enough to put his work at the Times in perspective, one need look no further than his successor, Barney Calame, who took this principled stand in his last column: “I would strongly advocate a significantly higher bar for naming juvenile offenders and suspects 11 years old and younger, who may be significantly less mature.” Ask Okrent why this guy’s such a stiff when he speaks and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 22, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 418 7th St. NW. Free. (202)638-7610. (Mike DeBonis)