By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The next Globe ombudsman

To get an idea of just how short his stint was, take a look at what it says next to his farewell post: “Richard Chacón is the new Globe Ombudsman.” Yes, and the old and soon-to-be-former ombudsman, too.

Ah, Richard, we hardly knew ye. Actually, that’s not quite true. Chacón had been a Globe staffer for a dozen years, covering Latin America, among other beats, and later serving as the deputy foreign editor. But, as with his predecessor, Christine Chinlund, Chacón never seemed to get untracked as ombudsman, striking such a polite, inoffensive tone that it was hard to remember what he had written five minutes after you’d read it.

Even that may not have been good enough for the higher-ups. Last fall, he wrote what might have been his only tough piece, on the Globe’s business partnership with the Red Sox. Among other things, he criticized top Globe business-side executives for accepting World Series rings. Two weeks later, Chacón backed down.

On Saturday, Chacón hinted at how unpleasant life can be as the Globe’s in-house critic: “My year as ombudsman has been one of the most memorable in my career (note: I didn’t say ‘fun’).”

Given the Globe’s current budget woes, as well as the fact that editor Martin Baron and publisher Richard Gilman have in the past at least talked about doing away with the ombudsman’s position, it’s possible that Chacón’s departure may mark the end of an era. But assuming Baron and Gilman understand the importance of having an ongoing conversation with their readers, I’ll repeat an argument I’ve made previously: the ombudsman should be a respected outsider who serves for no more than two or three years.

That’s the way the Washington Post has always done it. That’s the way the New York Times has done it since creating the “public editor” position following the Jayson Blair/Howell Raines meltdown of several years ago. Indeed, check out Byron Calame’s piece in yesterday’s Times, on a scoop that turned out too good to be true. The estimable Jack Shafer recently whacked Calame for his “dreadful news sense.” Maybe so, but Calame’s independence and stature — he is a retired deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal — allow him to take on sensitive subjects without worrying about how management will react.

Even though several Globe ombudsmen have done an excellent job — including, most recently, my former Boston Phoenix colleague Mark Jurkowitz, who held the position in the mid-1990s — overall, it’s just too personally difficult to whack the people you work with, especially when you expect to return to the newsroom after your term is over.

Chacón, to his credit, did start a blog, which is an ideal way for news organizations to converse with readers. He never fully exploited it, but that’s no reason to give up on it. At a time when circulation is declining and public distrust of the media is growing, this is a moment to expand the ombudsman’s role — and to give that position the independence and voice that it needs.

Update: Chacón tells Mark that he’s going to work for Deval Patrick.

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Stumbling toward the truth


To be continued


  1. Bryan Person

    Alas, Chacon’s final readers’ report on his blog runs like something in a print publication, with each note accompanied by the reader’s name and hometown or home state.Quaint, but old school.As I wrote to Chacon over the weekend, his blog, like all of the others on, needs to enable comments, in order to, as you write, Dan, best “exploit” the medium. Allow a real genuine online conversation among the Globe’s readers take place that way.The issue is about control, and the Globe needs to be willing to give some more of that up if it really wants to be taken seriously in the blogosphere.Let’s hope that Chacon’s replacement — if there is one — will push for that.

  2. Wes

    The Ombees just another attempt at installing a chinese wall between editors and the reading public. Never liked the idea, still don’t. It’s cowardly, more in tune with pols than truth seekers.

  3. Anonymous

    Dan: You should be ashamed of yourself for using the non-word “untracked.” It’s bad enough when some half-wit athlete says he needs to get “un-tracked,” but a writer like you should know better.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    I am unashamed.

  5. Anonymous

    I am not sure I should say “good riddance” or not.Chacon’s work had not bite and the Globe doesn’t seem to fully want a very useful and credible ombudsman either.Yet, this Deval gig is a lose-lose proposition for the Globe, the Dems in Mass and Deval.This is just another reinforcement in the mind of many in this state that the Globe is a continuation of the Dem party in the state. Smae company, just a idfferent title.Deval will get butchered for any positive coverage or spin on his apperances or LACK of criticism from the Globe.Deval as it is is alightwieght candidate that looks as far from a credible chance as ever and just does not capture enough admiration or trust from the public so far to seem able to carry the vote. Adding a Globe hack on board isn’t making it any more realistic for him.This just reinforceshow incestuous this relationship between media execs and journalists with political personalities and circles in this state.It is a cozy accomodating relationship that results in both losing trust with the public.This is just making people even more cynical.To say something positive and a bit off topic about the Globe, there was a phenomenal column by Sam Allis this Sunday about “Floaters.” That should be required redeaing from a very smart and classy nice guy to all the recent graduates.It also highlights that many kids undercapitalize on great potenital around in many dimensions while other immigrants, future or “illegal” are not able to grab because they are not allowed to, because they don’t have piece of paper but they have the will and energy to.(Right beside the Allis column, there was a Globe info box with a subscription rate of about $666 for the year. Uhhh…yeah right…even people in coma know it isn’t worth anywhere that for what you get. I just received another offer from the WSJ for $99 for the whole year. I have never seen a newspaper in so much need to beef up its readership like the Globe is and does less to remedy it. 50% off 26 weeks in not doing the trick and hiring phone telemarketers is not people’s idea of a great method to give them a great deal.)The Globe just DOES NOT get it!

  6. Anonymous

    Chacon was a huge disappointment. Forget mediocrity. The Globe sucks, and someone needs to remind them of that, every day. The Globe’s only selling points for me:1. It’s not the Herald.2. I don’t have a laptop, so the Globe allows me to read the sports section in the bathroom.3. The poor guy who delivers mine clearly needs the job.

  7. Anonymous

    For once N nailed it, (relatively succinctly).I am so tired of arrogant, angry socialists I could scream. At least the Union Leader ADMITS to an agenda.

  8. Anonymous

    Only in Mass. could this be considered “taking a different path”. Next Deval is going to claim to be a centrist.

  9. neil

    RIP to “helluva blog Chacky” jokes…No surprise. He was obviously uncomfortable, for two reasons I think. The position is naturally contradictory. The better you represent your readers, the more irritating you are to those who pay you, which is not a prudent career option. Meanwhile your readers think you are a shill, a tool, a hypocrite…And second, he didn’t seem interested in engaging in a dialog with readers. Then his blog was foist upon him–here, pretend to be forthcoming with our readers, focus groups say they like that! Though even in its emasculated commentless version, writing to the blog wasn’t in his nature. So he protested by rarely writing to it and when he did, merely republishing material he collected anyway (that weekly Reader’s Digest edition of user comments) for internal distribution. I’m with N on the sadness of the Globe as path to Dem hackery, and with anon 2:09 about the bathroom, and especially the intrepid guy who delivers my paper at 5 am. I’m more loyal to him than to the paper he delivers! Dan’s idea of an independent ombudsman is good, but I don’t see what appeal it has for the Globe. They want credit for having an impartial voice, but don’t want to relinquish the control. They want the appearance, not the actuality. If they won’t even allow blog comments, they’re not going to go for an independent ombudsman.So farewell to the reluctant blogger! I hope some day he finds his own voice.

  10. neil

    By the way I am glad to see that Dan deploys shame only as a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted. Do not expend shame wantonly on every trifle. Conserve your shame for when you really need it!And, tip o’ the pin to Bryper above, whose thoughts on Globe blog comment and control I reiterate.

  11. Anonymous

    Here’s the press release from Patrick’s campaign. How can it be so easy to go from being a metro daily’s ombudsman, then jump ship to be a flak for a candidate? I understand everyone has to make a living, but once you cross the line and leave journalism, I hope there ain’t no goin’ back:PATRICK CAMPAIGN NAMES VETERAN JOURNALIST AS DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONSCampaign Lands Chacón, Formerly of Globe, Newsday For Top Communications Post BOSTON – Monday, May 22, 2006 – The Deval Patrick campaign today named former Boston Globe editor, reporter and ombudsman Richard Chacón as the campaign’s new deputy campaign manager and director of communications.    “I’m very excited that Richard will be joining our campaign. Bringing on board someone of his stature and considerable experience is truly an asset as we head toward the Democratic primary,” said Deval Patrick. “I believe in seeking out the best ideas and the best people and I will do that in my campaign and in the governor’s office.” Chacón, 41, served as the Globe’s ombudsman since June 2005.  His chief responsibilities were receiving and responding to comments and questions from readers about journalism and the newspaper.  He wrote a bi-weekly column and was the first Globe ombudsman to launch a weblog in December 2005. In his new role, Chacón will oversee Patrick’s communications strategy and execution of the overall campaign communications plan.  “My career has always been involved in some level of public service,” Chacón said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to help the people of Massachusetts understand the fresh ideas and values that make Deval Patrick an honest and visionary leader.” In nearly a dozen years at the Globe, Chacón’s reporting and editing experiences have covered everything from Boston City Hall to Latin America as a foreign correspondent.   Before joining the Globe in 1994, Chacón worked as an editorial writer for New York Newsday, where he specialized in cultural affairs, local politics, and sports.  In 2004, Chacón was named a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University. Chacón’s broadcast journalism background includes work as a television reporter for KTSM in El Paso, Texas; as a public affairs producer for WCVB-TV in Boston; and as a radio reporter for WBUR-FM in Boston. Chacón has previously worked in government and politics. In 1992, he served as deputy media director for the Democratic National Convention, and before that as a speechwriter in the administration of New York City Mayor David Dinkins. A native of El Paso, Texas, he earned a Bachelor’s degree from Boston University’s College of Communications and holds Master’s degrees in public administration and in journalism from Colombia University in New York.   

  12. Anonymous

    anon 2:09: Not only can you take the Globe sports page to the toilet with you, but even better, you can also wipe with it!

  13. Anonymous

    (You can almost swear this last entry is by an anonymous Howie Carr. He is an early riser also @4:19 AM with early radio appearences…kiddin’)This discussion about enabling comments on blogs and the flow of feedback upstream, uncloaked, is more relevant than it is generally treated in mulling media changes. That is the single most effective advantage over MSM or Old Media (choose your label) that people feel empowered and can actually participate in pulic debate, sometimes even affecting campaigns and policies.But what is a blog without comment? Isn’t that just a glorified journal or diary by some insecure personality who can’t be bothered by the masses?? Isn’t “blog” a culmination of a web “community?” So if there are no comments enabled, that is like a family sitting for dinner and the head of the family talking but the rest are not talking back, simply taking it in and nodding or shaking their heads in silence.That is no “communal meal” so to speak.The WashPost deserves credit for being very adaptive and allowing comments on one of the most traveled news sites, not all but some. It backfired on them with a botched hiring of a plagiarist recently but haven’t closed the door completely. Unlike the Andrew Sullivans of the world who can’t take the heat.To tie in to this local story of Deval, there is an interesting entry from Keller on the matter. Jon does not allow comments either. I believe him to be a decent guy but I sense he feels he is too smart and important for the rest of us and suspect he doesn’t because he is rather too busy to maintain any. Hopefully that will change. He could be an even bigger draw if he interacted.But he reports that a fairly reliable poll puts Gabrielli far ahead of the pack, thanks mostly to buying visibility: have already expressed my faith in Gabrielli’s strength and chances in this weak field before, but how can a new PR hire alone help inject life into third place Deval @ 17% to Gabrielli’s 40% and climbing?This is an old tired desperate move by moribond campaigns that if you only change the messenger, the message will be just fine.Katherine Harris is trying that too and so many other doomed candidacies are and have.The Herald caught Kerry in a flip-flop and she is busy filing legislations to burnish her image. Pretty weak. Mihos was hurt by that Renee Camille weird fiasco and both a more visibly weak personality and body of real accomplishments.Tom is stagnant. Deval can move up, but I just don’t see how meaningful of a move without being more substantive. What is this “thing” that Chacon sees that the rest of us don’t?We’ll have to see. Get your popocorn ready for Chacon’s first media conference.N.

  14. 7-Eleven

    You’ve got to give Deval Patrick some credit: He sure does have big Chacon’s.

  15. mike_b1

    The Globe’s dictionary defines “ombudsman” as “mouthpiece for the company.”They could do the same via an occasional editor’s letter, and savbe some money in the process.

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