J-Source is pleased to include Patricia Graham's columns as ombudswoman of Brunswick News in the Watchogs section. 

 By Patricia Graham, Brunswick News ombudswoman

It is my great pleasure to introduce myself to you as Ombudswoman for Brunswick News. 

Before I elaborate on this new role, a little background: I’ve worked in the newspaper business for about 30 years, most of that time in Vancouver working for Pacific Newspaper Group, publisher of The Vancouver Sun, a broadsheet, and The Province, a tabloid. I was born and raised in Toronto and practiced law there for four years before giving up my practice for a summer job at The Globe and Mail. I moved to British Columbia and soon began working first for The Province and then The Vancouver Sun, where I stayed for 20 years, the last eight of them as editor-in-chief. Following that I spent two years in the role of Vice President, Digital for Pacific Newspaper Group, until my retirement in June of last year. The retirement didn’t last long: by November I had moved to Saint John to take on this opportunity at Brunswick News.

I have respect for an organization that is willing to appoint someone to represent readers and to independently assess its journalistic endeavours. In determining whether I would take this job, I satisfied myself that Brunswick News management is fully committed to their newspapers and wants them to be journalistically sound and to make a positive contribution to New Brunswick. There aren’t many ombudsmen in Canada; the CBC has both English and French-language ombudsmen, and The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail both have public editors. I am proud to join their ranks.

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On a personal level, I was enticed by the opportunity to experience another part of Canada. I have lived half my life in Toronto and half in British Columbia, and now I am fortunate to be able to live in and learn about the East Coast.

A free press has been recognized in law as an integral part of a healthy democratic society. Media ethicist Stephen J. A. Ward has said that the basis of journalism ethics is responsible publication for democracy. That’s a large responsibility and I can assure you that any journalist who takes it seriously will have more than a few sleepless nights. I believe we can exercise this responsibility more fully if we provide the public with a window onto what we do, and keep ourselves informed about what the public is thinking about us.

I share with my Brunswick News colleagues – about 100 of them at 19 publications in 13 locations throughout New Brunswick – a passion for news and for good journalism. Journalism is a calling, and I admire the talented and dedicated people who practice it:  every day they strive to inform and entertain their readers, and to contribute to the community in which they live and work. In my experience, most of them believe that a better society is possible through an informed citizenry and they take seriously the role they play in keeping people informed.  We can be helped in this if we listen to thoughtful concerns and comments from you, our readers.

As Ombudswoman I will review comments and respond to complaints from readers about editorial content, ensure that we are doing our utmost to maintain solid journalistic standards, and give readers an inside look at the workings of the newsrooms. I will post an online blog where I will write about some of the comments and complaints I’ve received, discuss journalism and our work, criticize that work when appropriate and defend it when necessary.

A word about labels: when speaking of the role I use the term “ombudsman”; when speaking of myself, “ombudswoman”. It’s an imperfect compromise but I believe signals that the role is bigger than me.

Brunswick News publications are closely connected to their communities, and many of you will continue to address concerns – and praise – to your local newsroom. But you can come directly to me as well, either in the first instance or when you are dissatisfied with a newsroom’s attempt to resolve your issue. In the former case, I will normally forward the concern or complaint to the appropriate editorial staff member for resolution.

You can contact me via email to ombudsman@brunswicknews.com, by submitting a complaint or comment online via the ombudsman pages on our websites or by letter addressed to Office of the Ombudsman, Brunswick News, P.O. Box 2350, Saint John, NB E2L 3V8.

This column was originally published by Brunswick News and reprinted here with Graham's permission. 

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.