The Busy Complaints Department

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By Deborah Howell
Sunday, June 3, 2007

So what does an ombudsman do every day? Tackle issues such as these:

· Arthur Kingdom of Great Falls and two other readers were concerned about a story last Tuesday on Allison Stokke, a California high school pole vaulter whose picture was spread across the Internet, often with lewd comments. He wrote: "I'm sure I'm not the only one to see the irony in The Post running a front-page story" on an athlete who "is now plagued with unwanted attention because her photo was posted without her permission . . . Her name and the city where she lives [are] in the story along with the Web site where her picture was first posted . . . Did anybody discuss whether running this story was proper, given the circumstances and the potential for harm?"

The harm was done before Post reporter Eli Saslow began working on the story. The pictures used were wholesome and the story respectful, but it was a cautionary -- and newsworthy -- tale about what can happen on the Internet. As for the picture that caused the furor, I didn't find it at all risqué, and The Post did not use it.

Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, assistant managing editor for sports, said, "We were very concerned about framing the story around the issue of unwanted privacy intrusions caused by the Internet. And this one hit close to home for us because we cover high school sports so seriously. This easily could have been a Post photo of one of our area kids."

If I had been one of Stokke's parents, I would have been reluctant to talk to The Post, and Garcia-Ruiz said the parents were. "I think the only reason they agreed to talk to us was that they wanted to help other parents and kids who might one day be in the same situation."

· Local readers usually get my attention first, but I wanted to know the answer to this query from Paul Turner of Spokane: "Why, in print editions, [does] Spokane require the state designation while cities such as Boise and Syracuse do not?" Ashley Halsey, associate Metro editor and weather map guru. said, "Because there's a Spokane in Missouri."

· Craig Fraser of Rehoboth Beach helped The Post to be accurate. He wrote that there was a recurring error in the Sunday Business section "for the Federal Employees' Thrift Saving Plan . . . the columns of monthly and annual performance data are not properly aligned with the fund titles."

Mike Shepard, Sunday business and markets editor, said the data flow directly from the Thrift Saving Plan's Web page. But the Web page changed recently; that altered the way the data came in, causing the numbers to align incorrectly. The template was fixed and the tables should be correct today.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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