With about two weeks remaining on Washington Post's ombudsman Patrick Pexton's two-year term, the newspaper has yet to announce what it plans to do.
According to a Feb. 6 report from The Washingtonian, the Post is considering changes to the ombudsman role, which it has had "since 1970, when Richard Harwood became the paper’s first internal critic." The Washingtonian reported that editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said that the newspaper hadn't "made any decisions" yet but hinted at the changes:
“I’m not sure an ombudsman focused as heavily as they have been on a weekly column makes sense any longer...I think it is still important to have some way for readers/viewers to register complaints and/or ask questions and be assured of getting a response."
iMediaEthics asked the Washington Post if it has made any decisions about hiring a replacement for Pexton, what prompted the change, and what changes would be made to the ombudsman's office, if any. But Jennifer Lee, a Washington Post spokesperson, declined to comment, telling iMediaEthics by email:
"We have nothing to add to what has already been reported."
The Washingtonian also quoted Pexton and PBS ombudsman (and former Post ombudsman) Michael Getler on the significance of any changes to or elimination of the role. Getler commented that "anyone who cuts an ombudsman is making a mistake" as "it's a disservice to the paper in upholding its journalistic standards."
Jeffrey Dvorkin, executive director of the international group the Organization for News Ombudsmen, shares Getler's view. Dvorkin told iMediaEthics by email:
"I agree with Michael Getler, that the position is both useful and timely as well as being a longstanding Washington Post tradition. It would be a loss to the readers to lose this position."
Pexton was announced ombudsman two years ago as previous ombudsman Andy Alexander's term ended. Pexton most recently tackled plagiarism and attribution issues at the Washington Post but other issues he's handled include complaints about political coverage, as iMediaEthics has written.
iMediaEthics has written to The Washingtonian asking for more information about a "note" at the bottom of its article related to a quoting error. And, Patrick Pexton was emailed the following questions:
Has the Washington Post or have you considered extending your contract or is the two-year term fixed?
What do you plan to do after your term ends?
Are you involved in the discussions about what to do with the position after you leave the office?
We'll update with any responses.
Last year, News Corp-owned the UK Sun announced its hiring of Philippa Kennedy as its ombudsman. In July 2012, the New York Times named Margaret Sullivan its fifth public editor, replacing Arthur Brisbane. When the New York Times announced Sullivan's hire, it highlighted that in addition to columns, she would work through social media and blogging.
UPDATE: 2/11/2013: 1:18 PM EST: Pexton told iMediaEthics by email that his "two year contract was fixed." Concerning the future of the ombudsman role at the Post, Pexton said "I will be giving input yet, but I will not be part of the decision making process." Moving forward, Pexton wrote
"I am considering a wide variety of opportunities at the moment and don't have any announcements to make yet."