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An ombudsman will review Reporter’s coverage of the State Senate campaign

Michael Jonas: Veteran journalist will review Reporter's coverage of race. Photo courtesy CommonWealth magazineMichael Jonas: Veteran journalist will review Reporter's coverage of race. Photo courtesy CommonWealth magazineSpurred by state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry’s announcement on Monday that she will be a candidate in a special election to replace state Sen. Jack Hart, who resigned from office last week, The Reporter has taken immediate steps to avoid political bias or impropriety, or the appearance thereof, in its coverage of the First Suffolk Senate race by hiring an ombudsman who will review that coverage for the duration of the campaign.

Rep. Forry, who is serving her fifth term in the Legislature, is married to Bill Forry, the publisher and editor of the Reporter newspaper group. He has worked since 1995 at the family-owned company, which publishes the weekly Reporter and two monthlies, the Boston Irish Reporter and the Boston Haitian Reporter, and also produces a website, dotnews.com. He took ownership of the company last year.

Bill Forry issued the following statement on Tuesday:

“The Reporter intends to cover the First Suffolk district race as we would any other political contest in our coverage area. But as we have done in the past, we have taken immediate steps in addition to inviting an ombudsman to review our work to install all reasonable safeguards to ensure the integrity of our newspaper and fair play for all sides involved in the campaign ahead. We owe that to our readers and to the community that we have served for 30 years.

“All of our newspapers will remain neutral in the race. We have full confidence in our team of reporters, led by Gintautas Dumcius, who has rightfully earned his own reputation as a trusted source of political news across the city. We are in good hands with Gin leading our coverage. He will work closely with Associate Editor Thomas F. Mulvoy Jr., a former managing editor of the Boston Globe who has worked in the Reporter’s newsroom since 2001.

“Neither I nor my father, Associate Publisher Ed Forry, nor any other family member will influence coverage, write, editorialize, supervise, or otherwise have an impact on our newspapers’ reporting of the campaign. I will continue to contribute to the Reporter newspapers editorials and stories that do not pertain directly to the campaign.”

Forry said that Michael Jonas, executive editor of CommonWealth magazine, has agreed to serve as the newspapers’ ombudsman over the course of the upcoming campaign. The position of ombudsman, often called “a reader’s representative,” is uncommon at community newspapers, but such an individual is sometimes employed by major daily papers to aggressively review its coverage of an issue, explore reader complaints, gain responses from reporters and editors, and publish his or her findings on a regular basis.

“Michael Jonas will do just that for the Reporter papers on this special election campaign,” Forry said. “He will help ensure that the Reporter’s coverage of the campaign for the First Suffolk district seat will be balanced, equitable, and fully transparent.”

The Reporter has previously employed an ombudsman, in 2004-2005, when Ms. Dorcena Forry was a candidate in a competitive special election for the House of Representatives.

Jonas is a 32-year resident of Dorchester who has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Readers and individual campaigns are invited to contact him with their comments, concerns, or questions regarding the Reporter’s coverage of the campaign. “All candidates will be given full and equal access to Mr. Jonas, who will work outside of the Reporter’s offices,” said Forry. “He can be reached via e-mail at dotnewsombudsman@gmail.com.”

“Our actions this week are an acknowledgment that the circumstances of this race oblige us to go to the greatest possible lengths to ensure that our reputation as a professional news organization, and the best interests of our readership, are of paramount importance,” Forry said.

Other measures announced this week include:

• In conformance with its standing policy on campaign coverage close to an election day, the Reporter will not publish any unsolicited commentary on the election in the April 25 issue, which immediately precedes the special election on April 30.

• The Reporter newspapers will not endorse a candidate in this election.

• Any political advertising for this campaign will be handled by Reporter Advertising Manager Jack Conboy. All candidates and their supporters will be charged the same rate for advertisements. Placement of ads in the paper will be done by Conboy on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Obviously, I will support my wife’s candidacy on my own personal time and outside the pages of the newspaper, said Forry. “But we will not use the newspaper to assist her in any way. I think that we are up for this challenge and that our coverage will speak for itself.”

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas, a 32-year resident of Dorchester, will serve as the Reporter’s ombudsman beginning this week. He will be reviewing the Reporter newspapers’ coverage of the campaign for the First Suffolk State Senate seat, receiving and exploring reader feedback, and publishing his findings in a regular column and online at DotNews.com.

Jonas is the executive editor of CommonWealth magazine, an award-winning quarterly magazine covering politics, ideas, and civic life in Massachusetts.  CommonWealth is published by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), a nonpartisan public policy think tank that focuses on a broad range of issues affecting life in Massachusetts.
 
Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. He got his start at the Dorchester Community News, where he covered a broad range of urban issues. Starting in the late 1980s, he was a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For a number of years he wrote a weekly column on local politics, “The Political Trail,” for the Globe’s Sunday City Weekly section. 

He can be reached via e-mail at dotnewsombudsman@gmail.com.