As a self-regulatory industry association, the National NewsMedia Council frequently hears from Canadians who express concerns about how our member news organizations report, or opine, on news and current affairs that have a public impact.
Some of the most popular refrains from complaints include keywords such as: “bias”, “omission”, “inaccuracy”, etc. As a matter of process, before the NNC gets involved, we encourage complainants to attempt to find a resolution to the concern with the news organization at the ‘local level’.
But what happens in the event that the names and contact details of editors responsible for addressing these concerns aren’t easily available, either in print or online? This was the subject of a complaint we recently received against an Ontario-based community newspaper last month.
An individual approached the NNC about their concerns with a police blotter news story that included their name and the details of their arrest. The complainant said the arrest was caused by a “misunderstanding” that had since been resolved. They had attempted to contact the news organization on several occasions to ask for the story to be updated but their requests had gone unanswered.
The story’s impact was compounded by the fact that it was indexed by search engines, which meant their name and the charges could be easily retrieved through a simple keyword search. The complainant said this had a negative impact on their professional life and possible employment opportunities.
In an effort to de-escalate the concerns of the complainant, the NNC staff contacted the publication and discovered that the contact details for the editor were out-of-date. Staff did receive the updated contact information for the publication’s current managing editor and contacted them in an effort to find a resolution to the complaint.
NNC staff connected the complainant with the managing editor. The complainant provided the editor with the proper documentation, which indicated the charges against them had been dropped. The publication also verified this fact with the Ontario Provincial Police. The news organization updated the story and removed the complainant’s name from the publication.
In this regard, the NNC finds that corrective action was taken to address this complaint. At the same time, however, the process of arriving at this resolution represents a cautionary tale for news organizations.
This case illustrates how important a news organization’s ‘contact us’ page should not be treated as an online afterthought. Not only is it an important gateway for customer service, it is ground zero for building a long-lasting, trusting, and productive relationship with its readers.