The Ombudsman as a Dispute Resolver in the Newspaper Industry - Dispute Resolution Journal - Vol. 41, No. 2
Sam Zagoria completed a two-year term as ombudsmun of The Washington Post in January 1986. His duties included investigating reader complaints about fairness and accuracy of news coverage, preparing a daily in-house critique of the paper for editors and staff of the Post, and writing a column on "The News Business." He has extensive experience in labor -management relations.
Originally from Dispute Resolution Journal
It is ironic that one of the oldest techniques for resolving disputes is probably the least known to most Americans. The concept of ombudsman has a long and honorable history, dating back to 1809 in Sweden. Since that time, ombudsmen have been appointed in all of the Scandinavian countries and in Britain, France, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, and some of the newer nations.
What is an ombudsman? The American Bar Association defines the post as held hy "an independent governmental official who receives complaints against government agencies and officials from aggrieved persons, who investigates, and who, if the complaints are justified, makes recommendations to remedy the complaints."
In this country, the states of Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, and Alaska have appointed ombudsmen. So have the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and several cities and counties. In Canada, there is an ombudsman in every province.
There are many benefits attributed to the concept, for both residents and governments. For residents, there is easy access—an ombudsman is appointed with the express assignment of providing a ready and sympathetic ear to an aggrieved citizen. The ombudsman system is less costly than litigation; less onerous, since it lifts the burden of gathering evidence for a case and reduces the necessity of confrontation; and more penetrating, since the ombudsman has the authority to elicit information from government personnel and records. There is also less delay— research studies show that the average time from complaint to the end of the investigation is about four to six weeks.
For governments, there is an attractive cost-benefit ratio, since the cost of an entire ombudsman operation is likely to he less than the expense involved in preparing a defense in a single damage action; the process is quicker than other forms of conflict resolution; and it offers more control over the result. Since an ombudsman can only recommend, a government agency runs less risk of an expensive, runaway verdict or award.