The Tampa Bay Times needs an ombudsman

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Finally!

A week after the controversial story of a woman profiled in a story published in the Times’ first monthly Floridian magazine took her own life as a story on her rare and controversial sexually-oriented medical condition was published, TV and media critic Eric Deggans writes about the situation.

I recognize Deggans has his hands full, especially since the recent release of his book, but it sure took him a while to write about a meta-story about the newspaper/his employer.

As one former Times reporter turned publicist said yesterday, Deggans should change his job title to TV and media except-for-the-Tampa-Bay-Times critic. I wouldn’t go that far; I just would have liked to see Deggans write about the situation when the issue was being argued in other prominent forums which discuss media issues, such as Gawker and Romensko.

Because Deggans, while I know he wholeheartedly disagrees with my view that the Times has blood on its hands for being an unwitting accomplice in the final act of a desperate woman, echoes the real thrust of my argument. “I do think the newspaper’s tendency to be tight-lipped about negative events in which it is directly involved can contribute to the cynicism,” Deggans writes. “Being more open, even when we may have made mistakes, can build trust whenever we’re compelled to report on ourselves.”

That’s really my issue with the Times in light of this story and the clusterf*ck created by its front-paging of a bogus story about a development company’s proposal to purchase $1 billion in regional properties; that there’s no public accountability for these stories. There’s no vehicle for readers to get genuine answers about what happened during the course of the reporting, for better or worse. Editor Mike Wilson discussing with the Poynter Institute — not exactly the kind of website bookmarked on the average Times reader’s browser — is not good enough.

Deggans is correct when he states that a “track record of transparency” would “shed light on how such pieces are developed and how a journalist works with the subject to present a fair, accurate, incisive but responsible account.”

With this story, the real estate story, the Times‘ decision to change its name and the controversial decision by PolitiFact editors as to what constituted the 2011 “Lie of the Year”, there are at least four situations where the Times employing an ombudsman or public editor, as the New York Times and Washington Post do, would have been a tremendous service to both the newspaper and its readers.

Because Deggans writes about the media, he is assumed to play this role for the Times, but that is not at all the reality. Deggans has told me several times he does not want to play that role, nor should he.

But someone should.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.