Based on the Washington Post’s readers representative’s first blogpost this week, it looks like concerns about the new position may have been justified.
Last month, the Washington Post announced it was ending its ombudsman role and instead creating a new readers representative position at the paper. Instead of having an independent ombudsman with a print column and blog to critique the paper and look into complaints, the readers representative is “a Post employee” named Doug Feaver who can occasionally blog and respond to readers. The Washingon Post reported last month that Post editorial editor Fred Hiatt expected Feaver to “hold us all properly accountable.”
Post spokesperson Kris Coratti confirmed to iMediaEthics by email that the readers rep, Doug Feaver, would be a part time position, but that he would have a full-time assistant, Alison Coglianese, who worked with the Post’s last ombudsman Patrick Pexton. Feaver retired from the Washington Post in 2006 after working for the newspaper for close to four decades as a reporter, editor and the website’s executive editor.
Many were concerned about the decision to downgrade from ombudsman to readers rep. NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos questioned if the readers rep position would be like a “customer relations person.”
Feaver finally posted his first blog entry on April 5, after three weeks on the job. Did he tackle accusations of accuracy or any other ethical issue? Nope. He did pretty much what Schumacher-Matos expected. “This new reader representative will not be an independent outsider protected by contract, as most ombudsmen are, and apparently will not do her or his own investigations,” Schumacher-Matos wrote. “Rather, like a customer relations person, she or he will take in complaints and get responses from editors, reporters and executives.”
In his first post, Feaver blogged about the newspaper’s decision to move the print feature on online articles and its announcement to raise a paywall.
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Feaver confessed that his decision to discuss the website’s mechanics (yawn) was not due to a lack of ethics questions from readers. In one brief paragraph, Feaver acknowledges that he received a “wide variety of questions” about the Post’s news coverage. The inquiries asked “how we cover” subjects and events and “whether we’re being fair.” The mystery remains, why did he choose to focus on business issues for his initial stamp as readers rep?
While Feaver mentioned quickly that readers accused a Post article of racism, the only remark he made in response was a simple “Sadly, facts are facts.” Feaver wrote:
“One article some readers regarded as racist noted that most of the mass-shooting incidents that have distressed our nation in recent years were committed by white males. Sadly, facts are facts.”
Now, iMediaEthics should note that Patrick Pexton, the Post’s last ombudsman, didn’t have the most promising of first columns either. In a 2011 commentary, iMediaEthics criticized Pexton’s first column, which commended The Washington Post’s reporting in Egypt during the protests in Tahrir Square.
iMediaEthics has written to Feaver for comment and will update with any response.