Securing the public trust

I live in the West, worked most of my life in central Canada, and my family comes from the Maritimes. I have experienced CBC as a citizen, employer and competitor.

I've come back to CBC, where I was a day-one host on Newsworld, after 15 years in newspaper, broadcast, news service and online newsrooms and classrooms. During that time I've managed major news organizations, taught journalism at the University of British Columbia, and focused on such areas as digital and social media, journalism ethics, diversity and freedom of information.

Those experiences have given me a good grasp on today's best practices and biggest challenges. One of the bigger challenges is the daily effort to secure and retain public trust. The immediacy of digital media brings with it new pressure on standards. The media-savvy society has greater expectations of responsiveness.

As the new CBC Ombudsman, I want to lend even more transparency to the exchange between the public and CBC on its journalism. This blog launches what I hope will be a healthy element in that dialogue. CBC cares about fulfilling the highest standards. Its news and information strives for accuracy, fairness, balance and impartiality in the context of diversity, independence, responsibility and accountability. I took the job because of its commitment to public service journalism and to the Ombudsman role.

Newsroom mistakes happen (studies show one in two media stories have a factual error) and hurt reputations, but credibility also flows from how mistakes are handled and how those who raise them are treated. I aim to continue to build public support for the Office, and in turn for CBC, by ensuring there is respect and attention in hearing and reviewing concerns.

This blog will post reviews conducted by this Office as they're completed. Your comments will be welcome. Between reviews I'll also discuss trends and events in journalism ethics and decision-making relevant to my work. The process of the review is straightforward and methodical for good reason. Public complaints go first to CBC for a response. If complainants don't feel the response sufficed, they can turn to the Office of the Ombudsman, which then decides if a review is merited. A review determines if CBC met its own Journalistic Standards and Practices and if there is anything to recommend. A review can be amended when new information is brought to light.

The Ombudsman is independent. I report to the CBC president and to the board of directors, not to CBC News, and my principal role is as the public's representative. But it's also important to note that CBC News is independent. My role is not to manage it and my work is only effective if CBC News accepts my reviews as credible and practical. I hope to be so, and I have big shoes to fill. William Morgan, David Bazay and most recently Vince Carlin have set lucid and scholarly standards for the reviews. My Radio-Canada counterpart, Julie Miville-Dechene, has modernized the Office with her clearly spoken work. What may frustrate some --- and feel unlike a typical blog --- is the duration between the event, the complaint, the review and the blog about all of it. It will feel more time-delayed than real-time.

While I'll post on other issues, it is important to preserve the integrity of the process. I won't be weighing in on Ombudsman matters unless I have conducted a review. With this formality done, let's open up the conversation. I welcome your suggestions.