This is not a particularly good start for the Union-Tribune‘s new readers representative, Carol Goodhue. You might remember that I once criticized Goodhue’s predecessor, Gina Lubrano, because, instead of representing her readers, she spent most of her time telling readers why they were wrong.

I think I even proposed that she should have renamed her column “Gina Lubrano: Why You’re Wrong.”

Lubrano copped to mistakes in the paper, spelling and some factual things here and there. But I never saw her really understand and “represent” a reader’s complaint in the name of change. Goodhue shows she’s ready to pick up right where Lubrano left off.

Here’s her key paragraph Monday:

In more than 30 years as a journalist with a few scattered days of filling in for Gina Lubrano, I’ve never felt such a desperate need to protect my noggin. I feel as if I’ve officially been initiated now that I’ve been pounded from the right and pummeled from the left n and the complaints were about the same front page.

OK, wait. This is exactly the problem. Goodhue is already starting from the assumption that her job is to defend the newspaper and take these licks.

Maybe that’s the job they gave her, but readers’ advocates should have a very different interpretation of their job.

It’s not Goodhue being “pummeled,” it’s the paper. It’s her job to understand, investigate and then communicate her findings about the complaints of the readers that call her. It’s her job to represent the reader, not the paper.

The main reader complaint that became the subject of most of her column Monday was that the U-T was wrong to publish an analysis from The New York Times about Saddam Hussein’s execution. The reader thought it was biased and inappropriate for publication in place of, perhaps, more observational reporting about the situation in Iraq.

It’s not like a U-T staffer wrote the piece, after all, so they could have chosen between any number of wire stories to run in its place. Why that one?

If Goodhue is going to investigate and respond to that complaint instead of others, she should answer this question: Why did editors choose that story?

Instead she says, well, this:

Deciding to run the analysis piece on the front page wasn’t such a slam-dunk. Most papers didn’t. I think the Union-Tribune provided an important service to readers by publishing it, whether readers liked the analysis or not.

One bias that I will freely and openly admit as a journalist is my support of the free flow of information and ideas. I think democracy depends on it. People need both news and interpretation of what’s going on to understand this complicated world. Analyses help with that. So do news stories that provide context and explanation.

So there’s a tease about an internal discussion about the story but no interview with the editor who made the call, no information about why that was the best choice to run — just her expression of her own appreciation for the story.

And of course, it’s all in the service of her ultimate point: that her readers are just wrong.

What they shouldn’t expect is to agree with everything they read in the news pages. If they do agree with everything, the paper is failing in its mission of providing a free marketplace of ideas, and readers are missing out on the chance to challenge their assumptions.

Thing is, from what she described, her readers didn’t say anything about wanting to agree with the story.


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