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23. Customer service

Once the paper has been published, the journalist must take responsibility for his writings. And healthy that his production should be submitted to the critical eye of his peers and readers. New means of communication make it an obligation for him to create a permanent dialogue with those who trust his writing.  

Accountability

Everywhere he’s allowed to do his job as a truth bringer, because people have a right to truthful information, a journalist always has a right to ask the others to be accountable : firs, clubs, associations, the government, etc. Therefore it’s only normal that he should be held accountable for his writings and acts.

Answering readers letters isn’t a chore, it’s a bonus

As a rule, a critical reader, just like any customer, is right. Even – and most of all – if he’s reading copy the wrong way, assumes wrong author intent, makes a mistake, he has a right to expect courtesy and respect from the journalist he’s calling out. Experience shows that if the journalist accepts criticism and answers in good faith, the reader will be understanding, or even conciliatory, and will sometimes concede he “didn’t get it”. Talking with your reader always brings added-value, and is quite instructive. The easiest way to gain readers, when you own a newspaper, is to make more room for the readers letters in the paper.

The right to reply is a fundamental right

The reader’s right to answer a personal implication is the most sacred. No law or argument should prevent publishing the reader’s response if he’s been named or called-out in a story. This response must of course be proportional to the aforementioned article. Its length, content and form can be discussed and negotiated. Having been named doesn’t give you the right to excessively call-out the paper. But nothing should avoid publication of a rightly asked for right to reply. Nothing then prevents the journalist from discussing it with the other readers. But be careful… most readers will see when you’re acting in good faith… and when you’re not.

Correct your mistakes, it’s a must

There’s no better proof for your readers that you mean well than admitting and correcting your mistakes spontaneously. A newspaper that never prints corrections is not honest. Every journalist makes mistakes sometimes. If some imprecisions don’t matter, other can have bad consequences. The obligatory correction is part of the timeless rules newspapers abide. To be more accessible to the readers, corrections are generally published in the same corner of the same page.

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Tomorrow I’ll publish in that same corner the following correction, in two sentences as neutral as possible, not groveling : “Contrarily to what we wrote in our story covering Caesar’s landing in Great Britain that was published yesterday on page 3, his nephew Octavian is not in charge of the Roman calvary. His adoptive son Brutus is. We ask our readers to kindly forgive this mix-up.”

A mediator ? Yes, but…

Readers have become so precious so the press that more and more newspapers grant an “ombudsman” or a “mediator” the tasks of discussing publicly and replying to their comments on the content of the articles. Once a week, as a rule, the readers’ letters become an open self-criticism column. But this rule of transparency doesn’t bring the same results everywhere. It depends on just how qualified the mediator chosen to be an intermediary or a spokesperson is. You have to have been a journalist yourself and know the rules of this job to be legitimate as a mediator.