Michael Williams: Readers' editor

Readers' editors oil the hinge of democracy


Do you digg? Or twitter? Are you busy poking your friends on Facebook? Or feeding your aggregators? Most readers of the 'IoS' are pretty techno-savvy, and I expect you'll know what I'm on about. Even Gordon Brown is twittering these days (and I don't mean just at the dispatch box). But the rise of the digitally literate reader is causing a shudder of anxiety among the ombudsmen of the world's newspapers, who are getting together for their annual conference in Sweden at the end of this month. (What do you call a gathering of readers' editors? A "niggle", perhaps?)

The conference theme is the role of "the news ombudsman today and tomorrow" – and Pam Platt, president of the Organization of News Ombudsmen, whose members range from the mighty 'Washington Post' to the humble 'Sacramento Bee', is upbeat. Journalism is the "hinge of democracy" and it is the ombudsmen who "keep that hinge oiled", she says. But an article in the influential paper 'Advertising Age' has caused a storm. Columnist Simon Dumenco pooh-poohs the high-falutin' view of press ombudsmen and says they are now obsolete. In this digital era, readers can effectively do the job themselves, he claims, through blogs and conversing directly with journalists by email. In any case, he says, newspaper ombudsmen are "boring as hell".

Boring? Shomemishtake, surely? And he's definitely wrong about the rest. In an increasingly fragmented media age, there is a greater need than ever to get some help in making sense of the digital circus.

In any case, where would Mr Dumenco's brave new world leave many of my correspondents who have no desire to blog and probably think YouTube is something to do with the local Underground station? Some still take the trouble to put pen to paper, lick an envelope and trek off to one of Britain's vanishing post offices. Such readers should not be written off as old or irrelevant. The 'IoS' has a high number of dedicated fans who have been with us since our launch in 1986. They may no longer be as young as they were, but they are highly valued.

One of the ink and Basildon Bond brigade is reader Ian Murray, who writes in longhand from Upper Clatford in Hampshire enclosing an 'IoS' cutting of a picture of a double-decker bus. "Not for the first time," he fumes, "do I write to point out that the bus shown is not a Routemaster. As a newspaper sometimes accused of London-centricity, you apparently have no one who even knows what a Routemaster looks like."

Clearly not, since according to my Ian Allan 'ABC', our picture was of an "RT" – an older type which the Routemaster replaced. You may not think this matters. Surely a bus is just a bus? But readers such as Mr Murray are a treasure because they remind us, in this blog and Wikipedia age, that standards of accuracy are absolute.

Message Board: Breast vs bottle: whose advice is best for babies?

Efforts to encourage breastfeeding, in the face of a campaign by Nestlé to promote formula milk for babies, caused a stir:

Carmen de Ugarte

The breastfeeding issue has become fundamentalist. Who has the right to tell me whether I breastfeed or not? Surely it is my decision, not the Government's or fanatics of the breast. Back off.

Sarah Hosking

Choice is only really a choice when it is a fully informed one. As adults, given the honest facts on the contents of your own diets, how would you prefer your food, natural or processed?


What is lacking from society as a whole is the support that women need to breastfeed successfully – and the advertising of formula undermines that support even further.

Maria McCarthy

Nestlé is a multimillion, multi-national, money-making business. Babies' stomachs are part of its market and it wants to fill them with its own product not with mothers' milk. That is the unpalatable truth.

Rob A

Preventing formula companies from advertising is not depriving the public of information, but saving it from propaganda. No wonder so many people are proud to boycott Nestlé.


We do not need to be putting any more money into Nestlé's bank accounts. This is definitely a worthy government stand but it needs to be backed up by support for breastfeeding women.


There is a big difference between pushing formula on to mothers in the third world, with poor sanitary conditions, and women living in the UK. So stop making them feel guilty about the choices they make.

Sophie McInnes

Formula has its place, but it will always come fourth in the ranks of what's best for babies. First is breastmilk, then expressed breastmilk, then donated breastmilk.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea