February 18, 2013

The Washington Post | Washingtonian | The Wrap
Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron makes a good case against the newspaper hiring another ombudsman, Patrick Pexton reports. Pexton will end his two-year term at the end of February.

For one, he said, it is not as if The Post doesn’t come in for criticism, from all quarters, instantly, in this Internet age. … Secondly, Baron said, there is intense “competition for resources.” … He’s right again. It is likely that Baron will have to make further cuts in The Post’s newsroom. An ombudsman’s salary is like that of a senior editor’s. It’s a tempting target.

Baron was previously the editor of The Boston Globe, which doesn’t have an ombudsman.

I’m not sure an ombudsman focused as heavily as they have been on a weekly column makes sense any longer,” Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt told Harry Jaffe earlier this month.

And indeed, former Postie Sharon Waxman writes in The Wrap, digital news sites like hers “don’t have copy editors, much less ombudsmen. (Instead we have spell check!) In the age of declining budgets, an ombudsman may be a luxury, sad to say.”

Pexton writes that his Sunday column “takes 25 to 30 percent of my time every week.” And he spends a lot of time listening to readers, a group of people he says reporters and editors are often too exhausted by the demands of their job to respond to:

We prevent multiple home-subscription cancellations every day by just having a sympathetic ear. At $383 per year for a home delivery subscription, we’re earning our salaries in saved subscriptions alone.

Pexton also mentions he has an assistant, which probably makes the ombudsman line item a little more attractive to budget hawks. On Twitter, Jay Rosen and two other former Post employees booted around thoughts on Pexton’s column:




Pexton joined Jack Shafer for a chat last year about the necessity of the ombudsman role at newspapers; “Let Marcus Brauchli (or a deputy) explain the Washington Post’s screw ups to its readers, not an appointed spear-chucker,” Shafer suggested.

“I think an ombudsmen, on a good day,” Pexton said, “can have real impact on the newsroom, on leadership, and ultimately what appears and doesn’t appear in the paper.”

Related: What role should public editors play in today’s newsrooms? | One month in, Margaret Sullivan talks about the changing role of New York Times Public Editor

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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