ONO Newsletter July 2020


In 1980, the Iran-Iraq War began, a small cable news company called CNN was founded, and Post-It notes were invented.

John Lennon was shot dead in New York, Zimbabwe gained its independence and a new trade union called Solidarity was formed in Poland.

Ronald Reagan became US President and Yasser Arafat became the President of the Palestinian National Council.

You could buy a 3-piece men’s suit for US$90 (back when people wore such things), Pac Man was released, and everyone tuned in to see who shot JR.

But most importantly, 1980 was the year ONO was founded.

For 40 years, the organization has represented news ombudsmen, standards editors, readers’ editors and public editors. Its members stand for accountability and transparency in journalism, providing a vital link between news organizations and the public they serve.

To mark the occasion, we have produced a special section on the ONO website outlining our history and early development.

It’s a feature we will be adding to over time, so if any members have information, photos or background they would like to share, please contact us at newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com and we will happily add them to our archive.

But for now, please take the time to read and enjoy the story of ONO as we mark our ruby anniversary.

Annual Meeting

ONO’s annual meeting held via Zoom on 17th June was a great success, with around 30 members joining us for the discussion on working during the time of Covid-19.

In fact, it was such a success that the ONO Board is considering running another Zoom discussion for members in September.

The topic is yet to be decided, so if you have suggestions on what we should discuss, drop us a line at newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com

In the meantime, if you missed our meeting and would like to catch up with it, the audio of the full meeting is now available on Soundcloud as a private audio file. It can be accessed via this special link, which should only be shared with ONO members:


It’s been the big topic across the journalism world in recent times.

Is traditional objectivity in journalism – a commitment to impartiality and approaching issues with an open mind – still relevant in today’s media?

The issue is a fundamentally important one for ombudsmen and standards editors, given how many editorial standards and codes of conduct incorporate a commitment to impartiality or objectivity in one form or another.

For example, here is the BBC’s guideline on impartiality, along with an article from The Guardian claiming it is no more than an elite consensus.

That debate, in one form or another, has taken off around the world since the controversy in the US after the New York Times published a controversial opinion piece by Senator Tom Cotton.

In some ways, the debate is between old, more traditional defenders of impartial journalism and younger reporters and thinkers who say journalism needs to be grounded in values.

What has followed in recent days and weeks has been an outpouring of ideas, suggestions and theories about how to define journalism and the ethics of journalism. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few highlights:

  • From the  Süddeutsche Zeitung, one Germany’s largest daily newspapers, comes this exploration of neutrality
  • A contrary view from within the New York Times, following the decision of their opinion editor to resign after running the Tom Cotton piece
  • An article from Australia on the implications of “cancel culture”
  • The Columbia Journalism Review asks one of the most important questions – if we get rid of objectivity, what do we replace it with?

One of the most noteworthy aspects of this debate is that it is not just about journalism; it is taking place inside journalism as well, and is leading to a lot of difficult questions in newsrooms around the world.

It is very likely that ONO members will find themselves in the middle of that debate. New NPR Public Editor Kelly McBride has already had that experience, finding herself strongly and unfairly attacked for restating some clear and quite nuanced ethical views about the nature of journalism.

In India, A. Panneerselvan provided this analysis of the issue of publishing diversity of opinion.

Late last year, ONO Executive Director Alan Sunderland contributed some personal thoughts on the nature of impartial journalism.

No doubt this debate will continue, and there may even be the seeds in this issue for a conversation at our next Zoom meeting.

Bjarne Schilling                                                                                          Alan Sunderland

ONO President                                                                               ONO Executive Director

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