After more than a decade as the Kansas City Star ombudsman, Derek Donovan is leaving that role to work on the editorial side of the newspaper. The Kansas City Star will not replace him, which effectively ends the ombudsman position.
Donovan told iMediaEthics his new title is still being determined. During his long-running time as public editor at the newspaper, Donovan explained that the reader feedback changed significantly. According to Mondo Times, The Star, based in Kansas City, Missouri, has a circulation of about 200,000 print editions — online, “more than 3 million monthly unique visitors” read the Star, according to its website.
“The media world has changed so vastly in the last 13 years that it’s hard to draw too many valid comparisons,” Donovan e-mailed iMediaEthics, noting he only gets a few pieces of snail mail a week. “My phones have never been silent, but they used to ring literally non-stop, and the only way I was able to stay on top of my work was to turn them off at noon. Now, a good 70 percent of my feedback comes in via email.”
According to Donovan, looking back at the past dozen or so years, he has found “more diversity of voices” contacting the newspaper about concerns or complaints.
“There’s just no overstating how open the modern newsroom has become,” Donovan commented. “When there’s an error, we generally find out about it very quickly, often in social media. There’s nothing Twitter loves more than a typo, you know.”
From Donovan’s perspective, readers still value the service the newspaper provides. “My biggest lesson from the readers is that they have no desire to find it all for themselves,” he wrote. “They want editors who do this professionally to let them know what’s most important first.”
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Donovan added that he found in recent years a shift in complaints about bias, which he attributes to a mix of readers ignoring mainstream media and the Star’s focus on more regional issues than national/international.
Donovan broke the news of his leaving the role in a recent column. He reflected on not just how the news and online distribution models have changed in his time as ombudsman, but also how the role changed him. “The wide range of points of view you’ve shown me has given me a deep sense of empathy, and I see nuances invisible to me before,” Donovan commented.
Moving forward, Donovan directed complaints about errors to email@example.com or contacting staff directly through social media, e-mail or phone. “Though I won’t be public editor any longer, The Star’s commitment to accuracy and fairness won’t falter,” Donovan wrote. “Error catches can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can use the email addresses and phone numbers that run with stories. And of course you can always go to social media to get in touch. The modern newsroom is open like never before.”
For the record, in terms of his independence, Donovan said he never was censored and was allowed to critique the newspaper as needed. “I can tell you honestly that during my tenure no publisher ever asked to review anything I wrote in advance,” Donovan stated. “Neither of the two editors I reported to ever ordered me not to air a criticism. I believe I received a grand total of six notes on my columns — and none was to spike or soften a valid blow.”
iMediaEthics has written to the Star’s editor to ask for comment about the ending of the ombudsman role.