Tales from the Lava Flow

Ombudsman

July 05, 1992|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF

Readers sometimes ask the ombudsman funny things like, "What did you do wrong to get that job?" Answer: Beats me.

Actually, I applied and don't regret it. True, some calls, a beer sounds better.

Readers usually say more challenging things, and colleagues read their ideas and mine in a daily internal report. As expected, about 95 percent is critical. Some readers can be dead wrong, biased and sarcastic. It happens. But many are constructive.

They applaud a publisher who pays someone to listen and poop in the nest, as another ombudsman put it. I like to think they're serving us all very strong tea, with a drop of honey. Here's some of the potion from 2,700 phone talks since February:

"There's a lot of lava flowing out of the city volcano -- crime, drugs, really bad stuff," said Helen Johns, a reader from Greektown in East Baltimore. "Don't forget the good stuff."

Lee Miles, of Dundalk, objects to a picture of eight nude fur-protesters: "Hypocrites. They're wearing shoes and boots made of animal hide. . . . Besides, I just had a bypass operation and can't get too excited."

A fellow whispers, "Liberal . . . liberal . . . liberal" and hangs up.

Another man critical of typographical and spelling errors asks, "On bended knee, I ask 'Where are your proof-readers?' " They disappeared in the 1970s when editors began setting type by computer.

Folks reacted positively to The Sun's critical city school series June 7-13. Based on calls to series writers and me, admirers outnumbered critics by about 50 to 10.

Readers get angry, with justification: For instance, The Sun didn't carry the list of 33 MacArthur Foundation winners (The Evening Sun did June 22), or report on Gay Pride Day at Wyman Park June 14, or cover a Flag Day celebration at The Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Woodlawn, or mark D-Day June 6, or print more about the men at the Olympic gymnastic trials here.

Sports questions get especially intense, such as why some editions of the Sunday Sun miss some Saturday night sports (we hope to improve on that) or why Oriole farm team box scores are gone this season (we're reconsidering, but no promises).

Suspicious readers see only old Doonesbury cartoons now: "Censored, fired, what?" We reported early on, "No, he's on vacation until September. Re-treads until then."

Joseph Nowakowski, of Dundalk, wants to see a one-day treat of little pictures and brief profiles of the editorial writers. "Who are these people?"

The local columnists have fans who love them, critics who dislike them and my office egometer. That machine registers how many times the writers use "I," "me" and "my" in columns. There's no worry until they hit the 30X level, which might take them further away from that world out there. One former Sun columnist once hit the 46X gong.

Sandra Rowell, 11, of Laurel, spots the word "damn" in the comic Apt. 3-G and gives us the business, "Why do you have to put that word in it? Don't ruin it by using curse words." A minister cautions columnists, "Don't use God as a punctuation point, as in, "my God".

"Anybody alive down there at The Sun?" readers sometimes ask, after getting recorded VoiceMail messages.

Charging sexism, a reader asks us why we refer to little old ladies as "grandmotherly" or "grandmothers," while their male counterparts are never described as "grandfatherly" or "grandfathers."

Dozens of Oriole fans sing, "Is nothing sacred? Where's the Orioles Bird you had on Page 1 all these years?" The artist left, the Bird's wings were clipped.

Fifty readers lament the loss of comics Crock, the Smith Family and Real-Life Adventures. "Lighten up -- you kept the heavy ones." More comics changes are coming.

Some policemen praise our annual Police Officers of the Year Awards. Fire Battalion Chief Donald Howell, of Howard County, suggests, "Why not the same for the Regional Council firefighters in Baltimore, Annapolis and the five counties?"

A St. Michaels poet, Herr Bear, dislikes our headline puns: "A caption or headline that's funny/helps put a good tale on the money/But why must The Sun/Still rely on a pun/ When a low-esteemed pun comes off crummy?"

Sometimes there's even a chuckling voice like old Sun fan Marion Bassford, of Maui, Hawaii. He follows the Orioles and his old hometown of Baltimore through occasional readings of The Sun and offers island cheer to all on the Patapsco.

Finally, to the ombudsman: "Hon, do they listen to you there?" Sure. You win some, you lose some and you hope for a few more Marion Bassfords.

Ernest Imhoff is readers' representative for The Baltimore Sun.

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