The Washington Post confirmed Wednesday that its reader representative, Doug Feaver, has left the paper after less than one year in the job.
The Post created the reader representative job after the contract of its ombudsman Patrick Pexton expired, hoping to soften the criticism of the paper’s reporting and editorial operations.
Editorial page Editor Fred Hiatt admitted as much last year when he said that, while the Post is committed to maintaining accountability, he wasn’t convinced that a weekly column by an ombudsman was the best way to do so. That’s especially true when the columns expose some inconvenient truths, like when former ombudsman Deborah Howell admitted that conservatives complaints that the Post has a “liberal tilt” are valid. That is something the late Katharine Graham repeatedly denied at the company’s annual shareholder meetings when challenged by AIM founder and Chairman Reed Irvine.
In the roughly nine-plus months that Feaver was on the job, he wrote just 28 blog posts, dealing mostly with reader comments. Unlike some of the more recent ombudsmen, Feaver didn’t cast a critical eye on the Post’s reporting, which is exactly the way Hiatt wanted it.
It was the growing criticism that bothered Hiatt. For most of the position’s 43-year existence at the Post, the liberal journalists serving as ombudsman rarely criticized the paper. But that changed in the last five years, and Hiatt saw Pexton’s contract expiration as an opportunity to eliminate the position and bury any future criticism of the paper. And that’s exactly what happened.
Hiatt hasn’t decided whether or not to replace Feaver, but his departure gives him a chance to correct the mistake he made last year. In the name of good journalism—which the Post purportedly practices—they should bring back the ombudsman.