February 24, 2011 – Evaluating journalistic work is no easy task. Yet this is the challenge faced by CBC Ombudsman Kirk LaPointe. Officially on the job since November, he brings more than 25 years of experience as a journalist for different media outlets. Kirk spoke to us about his new appointment.
1. Why is it important to have an Ombudsman at CBC?
I believe that Canadians have an inherent trust in CBC/Radio-Canada, thanks largely to the quality of our programming. In this digital era of abundant media, it's more important than ever to maintain very high journalistic standards and practices as a national public broadcaster and to demonstrate that commitment by having an ombudsman to enforce those standards.
As a Crown corporation, CBC must always demonstrate its commitment to the public. That’s what it’s doing when it stands willing to review news and information coverage.. As recipients of public funding, there is a special responsibility and accountability to Canadians.
2. How do you go about maintaining a relationship with Canadians?
I feel it’s important to use all the new digital means at our disposal to create a dialogue with the public. Blogs, Twitter and other social media I use clearly help make the process more accessible, transparent and accountable, and help forge ties with Canadians. Social media also allows people to express their point of view. These days, I couldn’t imagine sharing information and maintaining a relationship with people without these tools. I’m trying to let people know through different social media what stage their request is at, and all my reviews are posted online. I’ve even begun to announce on Twitter and Facebook the issues I’ll examine in the coming weeks.
3. How have electronic media changed journalistic practices?
Electronic media have made some things easier, some things harder. Canadians want greater transparency, and I believe this is a very legitimate expectation in the digital era. People expect journalists to deliver information as soon as it’s available. Technology permits both. But, journalists must strike a balance between releasing information immediately and the true importance of preserving high journalistic standards. In this era of abundance, those standards matter more than ever.
What’s more, we realize that people making up our audience take part in creating content. Technology not only lets us offer additional information quickly but also helps generate it in unconventional ways. That is changing journalism significantly, largely by adding expertise and perspective never before available.
I feel that technology also lets us tell stories in a totally new way. We’re just beginning to understand how to use certain elements, even though the Internet has existed for decades.
4. What do you feel are the main challenges that the ombudsmen need to address in the coming years?
I see several challenges, though these also represent opportunities. First, we must be sure to use technology for the common good. We must regard our high journalistic standards as an advantage and not as a burden. We must strengthen ties with audiences through our public service mandate.
We must ensure that the public knows about the Ombudsman’s role and can access the services offered. I hope that technologies will allow us to pursue further dialogue with Canadians while helping reaffirm our role with the public.