The Washington Post has confirmed its own ombudsman's hunch and announced on Friday that it has cut the 43-year-old position.
"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," publisher Katharine Weymouth wrote in a message Friday to Post readers. "Those duties are as critical today as ever. Yet it is time that the way these duties are performed evolves."
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Instead, the Post plans on following the lead of other newspapers by appointing a reader representative who, unlike an ombudsman, will be an employee of the newspaper. The reader rep won't be responsible for a weekly column in print, either; only writing "online and/or in the newspaper from time to time to address reader concerns, with responses from editors, reporters or business executives as appropriate."
Patrick Pexton, the Post's last ombudsman whose contract with the paper expired on Thursday, was well aware of the Post's possible move and wrote a column about it two weeks before his exit.
"For cost-cutting reasons, for modern media-technology reasons and because The Post, like other news organizations, is financially weaker and hence even more sensitive to criticism," he wrote. "My bet is that this position will disappear."
The Post did not yet respond to TheWrap's request for comment.
In his column, Pexton wrote that the decision was, in fact, designed to cut costs, and quoted executive editor Martin Baron.
While Baron recognized the "value" of a news ombudsman, he said: "There is ample criticism of our performance from outside sources, entirely independent of the newsroom, and we don’t pay their salaries.”
Starting Monday, outside sources can contact the Post with questions or concerns by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, which the newspaper hopes will enable them to "remain faithful to the mission" created "for a different era."
Jeffrey Dvorkin, the executive director for the Organization of News Ombudsmen, views the Post's commitment to that mission as a good thing.
"The fact that the Washington Post did not abolish the role, but is transforming it, is a good thing and an indication that the newspaper is still committed to transparency and accountability," Dvorkin told TheWrap. "Hopefully, the new readers representative will have the same degree of independence as did the previous ombudsmen."
According to Dvorkin, about 20 ombudsmen, readers editors or readers representatives that are members of the ONO are currently working in the United States.