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Washington Post Ombudsman Blasts Paper’s Handling of Young Journalists

As a young blogger resigns, WashPost’s Patrick Pexton criticizes the paper’s lax training of young journalists for the digital age

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton issued a strong rebuke of his own paper on Friday, criticizing its handling of young reporters, blogger Elizabeth Flock in particular.

Flock resigned last week after a blog post about life on Mars received a particularly sharp editor’s note because she rewrote (or plagiarized) a couple of lines from a Discovery News piece. This was the second time editors had posted such a note on Flock’s work in the past few months.

The blogger, responsible for almost six aggregated posts on assorted topics every day, figured it wouldn’t be long before she made another mistake and found herself on the chopping block. So she quit.

Pexton, in his column Friday about Flock’s resignation, wrote that the Post “failed” Flock as much as she had failed it, and, after speaking with various members of the paper’s blogging corps, relayed their concerns about the Post’s training of its young journalists.

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The young writers told Pexton that they got “no training, little guidance or mentoring and sparse editing,” and that “guidelines for aggregating stories are almost nonexistent.”

Pexton closes the column by noting that the Post will soon institute a training program for these young journalists, edifying them in the ways of both gumshoe reporting and the digital age.

"I thought the ombudsman's piece was for the most part very fair," Flock told TheWrap on Sunday. "I am optimistic that the Post will better develop its digital journalists going forward. I think that producing less but better reported content is vital, and that it is the future."

However sanguine Flock is, the Post's steps seem too little and too late for many of these journalists, and a dilatory move for a newspaper that has been struggling – like most newspapers – with its transition to a new age of journalism.

This is a familiar tale now, as media organizations struggle to properly define aggregation standards and fail to adequately train young journalists due to scarce resources and high demand for content.

It is a particularly glaring issue at legacy institutions like the Post, which try to uphold their decades-old journalistic standards while meeting the demands of the Twitter-fueled, 24-hour news cycle.

Faced with declining revenues, the Post has closed its domestic bureaus, offered numerous rounds of buyouts – a new one just announced – and all but given up its ambition of being a national newspaper.

Though the Post remains a beacon of journalism, even its strongest writers, like Dan Balz, admit the place has changed

If one chooses to focus on the positive, the Post has made great strides on the digital side, launching the widely popular Social Reader on Facebook among other web-focused programs.

Yet such steps forward will forever be constrained without the appropriate training of young reporters, a flaw even the Post has been forced to acknowledge.

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