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Washington Post Ombudsman Says Paper Failed Former Blogger

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton took the newspaper to task [1] on Sunday for not giving the recently resigned blogger Elizabeth Flock more training and support for her job.

Flock resigned on April 13 after it came to light that she had plagiarized parts of a Discovery News article on life on Mars in her blog post.

This wasn’t Flock’s first error. In December she reported on an erroneous left-wing-blog-initiated story that the Romney campaign was using an old KKK slogan in a video.

In both instances the Post issued an Editor’s note correcting the record and apologizing for Flock’s sloppy reporting.

While Flock took full responsibility for her reporting, Pexton felt that she wasn’t fully to blame for the faulty blog posts.

Pexton checked with several young bloggers at the Post, and others who have left, and they all complained that there was enormous pressure to produce stories that would attract a large number of web visitors. They said that the paper had no guidelines for aggregating stories, which is a large part of their job. Plus, many of them felt that even if they did do a good job, it wasn’t clear they would advance at the paper.

Katharine Zaleski, executive director of digital news, disputed those charges.

“We’re deeply conscious of the imperatives our bloggers face and go to great lengths to ensure they have the editorial support they need. We tell bloggers that their first and central priority is accuracy, not speed, not buzziness. The Washington Post’s standards apply every bit as much to our digital work as they do to our print edition. And our bloggers honor that.”

While I don’t excuse Flock for her actions, I agree with Pexton that the Post did fail her and should bear some of responsibility for her downfall.

After the paper was forced to apologize for the Romney post, I said that I hoped the editors would be keeping a closer eye on her work in the future.

Obviously that didn’t happen, as she erred again just four months later, in something that should have been easily detected by her editors.

Even though the Post claims that that they strive for accuracy first, at least with the website, it appears that speed and buzziness are paramount—at least according to Flock’s comments that the editors really didn’t closely scrutinize the blog posts and verify them for accuracy.

If Zaleski is truly convinced that the Post’s bloggers honor the paper’s standards for accuracy, then I suggest that in light of what happened with Flock, Zaleski should conduct a review of all the blog posts on the Post website for the last six months or so to verify that all bloggers have been adhering to those standards. That would reassure their readers that there are and will not be any more Elizabeth Flocks.