What a crock. As predicted here on Feb. 16, the Washington Post has gone ahead and dumped the position of ombudsman at the newspaper. In an unctuous letter published this afternoon, Post publisher Katharine Weymouth insults the intelligence of her readers with these words:
The world has changed, and we at The Post must change with it. 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. Those duties are as critical today as ever. Yet it is time that the way these duties are performed evolves.
We will appoint a reader representative shortly to address our readers’ concerns and questions. Unlike ombudsmen in the past, the reader representative will be a Post employee. The representative will not write a weekly column for the page but will write online and/or in the newspaper from time to time to address reader concerns, with responses from editors, reporters or business executives as appropriate.
Beginning Monday, you may send questions or complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org.We know that media writers inside and outside The Post will continue to hold us accountable for what we write, as will our readers, in letters to the editor and online comments on Post articles.
In short, while we are not filling a position that was created decades ago for a different era, we remain faithful to the mission. We know that you, our readers, will hold us to that, as you should.
There is so much phony talk in those paragraphs, I hardly know where to begin picking them apart.
What about the evolving media landscape makes the position of ombudsman out-moded? Is accountability so totally out of style? Aside from Ms. Weymouth’s specious argument that the media world has somehow evolved in a way that it’s no longer necessary to have an independent eye keeping watching over the paper and critiquing it when necessary, the most damaging admission in her letter is that a new, downgraded, reader representative will be a Post employee, lacking independence from the editorial and business sides of the newspaper. The Public Editor, as the position is named at the New York Times, has a contract that keeps that person free from influence of the classic fiefdoms at a daily newspaper. I believe that Post ombudspersons always had this status, but no more.
Weymouth claims that “we remain faithful to the mission,” but unspoken is what that purpose is. It surely can’t be a willingness to be accountable to readers and to history. She takes for granted that we will just what know it she means by that optimistic allusion. Alas, I do not.