American Journalism Review: Star Tribune's credibility hurt by loss of ombudsman

The American Journalism Review, one of the leading media criticism magazines in the country, is using the Star Tribune as Exhibit A on how newspapers' credibility suffers when they clip the ombudsman position.

The article, entitled "Tempting Targets," chronicles how increasingly cost-conscious newspapers view the ombudsman position as a "luxury" that is first to go when the ax falls. The Strib's Reader's Rep, Kate Parry, became the health editor in October.

After the ombudsmen at both papers were reassigned, the Sun and the Star Tribune created blogs to foster communication between readers and editors. Though discussion on the Sun's blog is informative – the Star Tribune's blog is rarely updated – such solutions are a substitute for only a portion of an ombudsman's role.

"Rarely updated" may be too charitable a description. The most recent post on the "From the editors" blog is from February 18, and it's about how the paper will be blogging about the Twins from Spring training. Just underneath it is a post by Editor Nancy Barnes entitled "Fairness a main tenet of political coverage" posted January 13. In total, there are just seven posts on the blog, and bizarrely, the comments have been turned off for half of them--an odd decision for a blog that purports to give readers a direct line of communication with the editors.

That may be because Barnes' initial post--"Star Tribune editors will answer your questions and share thoughts about the work in both the paper and online. We welcome reader feedback and comments."--was met with a chorus of readers sounding off about their disappointment. Barnes showed up and briefly tried to defend herself and redirect the conversation, to no avail.

Apparently, the Star Tribune wants reader feedback, but only if it's pats on the back. Then again, the Strib has had a lot on its mind lately.