I keep thinking over Jason Calacanis’ contemplation of hiring an ombudsman for his new service, Mahalo, and his kind (I think) inclusion of my name among the candidates (sorry, Jason; lots of irons in that fire). Though I agree with others that this is a laudable step — I think we can name the new-media sites with ombudsmen on no fingers — I still couldn’t help thinking that there’s something so old-media about this.
And then it hit me as I used Mahalo this morning. As my daughter and I started into our occasional German lessons, I went to Mahalo’s good speaking-German page, recommended on Jason’s blog. And I wanted to add something: Annik Rubin’s mellifluous Schlaflos in Muenchen and her new Slow German podcast. My choices were to send an email to the Mahalo guide, which I’m never crazy about because it’s so one-way, or start a forum discussion, which requires registration, a speedbump. Neither immediately affects the page itself. What I wanted, though, was a wiki. I wanted to contribute my knowledge then and there.
And so it occurred to me that the best ombudsman is everyone. Every one of your readers with an addition, correction, or challenge is an ombudsman. And every one of your writers, dealing directly with the people who know more, is an ombudsman for your brand and product. You have to have the faith in your public to do this. This is what I’ve been saying to newspapers: It’s not right to ghettoize contact with the public through one person so that the rest of the staff thinks that the public is somebody else’s problem; everyone needs to be responsible for conversation with the public.
So that’s my advice to Jason: Set up the systems to that every employee and every reader is your ombudsman. Fire me before you hire me.