Editor’s note: The ombudsman is an independent position within the paper that oversees standards and ethics of news coverage. Read more about the position here. Email Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a formal comment or complaint here.
The author’s views are their own.
For the past year I have served the Flat Hat as its inaugural standards and practices editor. In this time it has been my job to ensure the paper was functioning properly and that we were meeting our goals as a media organization. I’d say I get a solid B.
I spent my first year at a different school in a different state before transferring to the College of William & Mary in the Fall of 2019. The weird schedule and mental zone into which my transferring placed me allowed me time to develop some obsessions and lonely habits. I read and learned the principles of behavioral economics, became very good at biking the same 10 miles for a few weeks, listened to 1,800 podcast episodes and then moved on to 800 episodes of a 1950s radio show, was convinced I would build a model ship (I have not) and read a lot – I mean a lot – of news every day.
Rather obsessively, I became convinced that the world needed more checks and balances: we need more referees calling the plays and throwing flags on falsehood. When I arrived on campus I thought about joining the Flat Hat, but quickly got pulled into other avenues and minutiae of trying to re-sort out my life. In January 2020 I met former Editor-in-Chief Ethan Brown (my current and lovely boyfriend) who told me about a position open with the brand new data section. It was perfect – perhaps one of the more objective sections of journalism. I got a boot camp in journalism from then-Data Editor Leslie Davis and bam I had a title, writing stories.
One year later it was time for staff selection – and I had become somewhat disillusioned by the idea of continuing to meet deadlines. I lobbied the new (now outgoing) Editor-in-Chief Claire Hogan on the idea of an ombudsman. After describing the role, its importance and my vision she surprisingly agreed. A few weeks later I had written and signed a contract and donned my new, metaphorical hat. It has been one of the best facets of my life here.
Since January 2021, I have written several articles; dealt with crises in public and behind closed doors; sent so, so many emails; worked to ensure quality; read every article published and unpublished; met with students, faculty, staff and members of the public; held events and open discussions; created paperwork and documents; and probably a dozen things I can’t remember. “Very cool, Matt, you’ve done lots… groan.” But I recognize that my job has probably been a fifth the amount of work as our tireless staff.
What I’m most proud of has been the emergence of a culture of truth, ethics and accountability. While not lacking at the Flat Hat before, the Office of the Ombudsman made it official. Instead of purely an ideal, the office gave it a place and enshrined our ethics and standards column inches and online. This culture will continue to adapt and grow into the paper and community; by no means is the work finished.
My thanks must go out to many people who believed in me, tolerated me, or otherwise helped. They are in no particular order. Ernie Gates (former Flat Hatter and current ombudsman at Stars and Stripes and an incredibly nice person), Claire Hogan, Ethan Brown, Leslie Davis, Jeffrey Dvorkin, the President’s Office, the Flat Hat staff (past, present and future), and the community in which I served. Following me in the position are two eminently competent and enthusiastic new ombuds: Van Monday and Sarah Devendorf will be taking over the office. I have the utmost faith in them and their abilities. Van and Sarah – my baby is now yours, don’t drop it. Thank you for believing.
To the community that reads the Flat Hat I ask for your patience and kindness. Our staff is unpaid and overworked students. They are people too. That we even have a newspaper at all is somewhat remarkable, given our lack of advisor or journalism program. That we have the ombudsman is also remarkable given how many papers have done away with them over the past twenty years. But I also ask that you don’t let up – tell the paper when it messes up, hold us accountable as we try to do the same for you. And please, please read the news.
Goodbye and good news.