If you’ve ever written to or called the ombudsman here at The Post, you might recognize my name. As his assistant, I’m the first person to see the e-mails, listen to the voicemail messages, open the snail mail (yes, we still get some of that) and go through anything else sent to us.
With hundreds of items pouring in each day, I determine what we consider routine and what might require more attention. Call it triage.
A good amount of the communications we receive can be directed to other departments within The Post (complaints about the revised box scores in the Sports section, for example) or are items that I can respond to directly (someone may need help tracking down an old article). Otherwise, the e-mails and calls go to the ombudsman, and together we determine the next step.
Often, patterns emerge. If we get large amounts of mail or a handful of phone calls on any one subject, it’s usually because readers are genuinely upset and riled up or because an organized group or Web site is encouraging people to protest something that ran in the paper.
If you read the Omblog regularly, you're probably already familiar with Reader Meter, our weekly wrap-up of what has you picking up the phone or sitting down at your keyboard (or typewriter, for some). Up to this point, the ombudsman has been offering his commentary on these topics rather than simply summarizing what is generating the most buzz.
This takes time and research and, quite often, can easily be turned into a separate blog post entirely. To make time for more of these, we are taking Reader Meter back to its roots.
Each Friday I’ll be compiling the week’s trending topics as brought to us by you. We'll be including quotes from your e-mails and phone calls (don’t worry, we’ll ask you first) as well as any other commentary we feel is relevant.
Let's start with this week.
1) Based strictly on volume, we easily received the most amount of e-mail on the story in the March 9 edition about the new energy-efficient light bulb that comes with a hefty $50 price tag. Almost all were critical of the piece and of the accompanying graphic, which The Post later corrected both online and in print. The graphic incorrectly made it look like old-style incandescent bulbs were cheaper over the long term than the new LED $50 bulb. One reader put in his subject line, "Dim Bulbs at the Post," and another succinctly summed up most readers’ reactions:
March 15th: The $50 light bulb was not worth publishing.”
The ombudsman plans to address this next week.
2) The debate over contraceptives and abortion has taken center stage on a national level in the past few weeks. This is always a topic that drums up strong opinions and emotions. So when Garry Trudeau, the artist behind the Doonesbury comic strip, created a series of cartoons about the politicians pushing for the passage of laws to require women to undergo vaginal ultrasounds before having an abortion, we anticipated a strong response.
The comics page, or the “funnies,” to some, is one of the most beloved sections among readers. And while some newspapers around the country chose not to run the series, The Post opted to print it. The vast majority of readers wrote to say that The Post should not have run the strip, and one or two said they would cancel their subscriptions over it. And one thanked The Post for retaining the strip.
The phone calls and e-mails we received about Doonesbury were all sent to Style section editors Frances Sellers and Kevin Sullivan, who took turns responding to each reader.