The Washington Post made it official on Friday that after 43 years it would no longer have an ombudsman to critique the newspaper’s content and answer readers’ questions and complaints.
Instead, the Post will employ a reader representative, who will be a staff member—unlike the ombudsman who was a contract employee and independent of the newsroom. The staffer will report to editorial page editor Fred Hiatt and may write a blog, but it is unlikely that he or she will write a Sunday column as the ombudsman has traditionally done.
The move doesn’t come as a total surprise, as it has been rumored for weeks, with the departure of ombudsman Patrick Pexton whose contract expired at the end of February.
While publisher Katharine Weymouth told readers in a column on Friday that the Post was making this change because the world has changed and the paper must change with it, the real reason more likely stems from the fact that recent ombudsmen have not been shy at criticizing the Post. By eliminating the position, they have also eliminated the criticism, which didn’t sit well with Hiatt.
The Post has taken a giant step backward with this move to shield itself from criticism. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bode well for the paper’s practice of good journalism and maintaining the highest confidence of its readers. Howie Kurtz, who used to write a column for the Post, said Sunday on CNN’s Reliable Sources that “Even in the era of budget cutbacks this is a sad development and in my view a mistake.”
Read Weymouth’s column below.
The world has changed, and we at The Post must change with it. We have been privileged to have had the service of many talented ombudsmen (and women) who have addressed readers’ concerns, answered their questions and held The Post to the highest standards of journalism. Those duties are as critical today as ever. Yet it is time that the way these duties are performed evolves.
We will appoint a reader representative shortly to address our readers’ concerns and questions. Unlike ombudsmen in the past, the reader representative will be a Post employee. The representative will not write a weekly column for the page but will write online and/or in the newspaper from time to time to address reader concerns, with responses from editors, reporters or business executives as appropriate.
Beginning Monday, you may send questions or complaints to email@example.com. We know that media writers inside and outside The Post will continue to hold us accountable for what we write, as will our readers, in letters to the editor and online comments on Post articles.
In short, while we are not filling a position that was created decades ago for a different era, we remain faithful to the mission. We know that you, our readers, will hold us to that, as you should.
Publisher, The Washington Post