News & Politics

The “Washington Post” Has Hired Its First “Reader Representative”

Say goodbye to the ombudsman position.

The days of a robust internal watchdog within the
Washington Post are over.

That became clear when publisher
Katharine Weymouth decided to not hire an ombudsman to replace
Patrick Pexton, whose two-year term ended at the end of February. In choosing
Doug Feaver Thursday
as the first “reader representative,” Weymouth ensures that the ombudsman
job is officially in the dustbin.

Not that Doug Feaver is a weak or inexperienced journalist. To the contrary, Feaver
goes back decades within the
Post, from reporter to editor to executive editor of the website. He knows the
Post, its weaknesses, strengths, and foibles.

In choosing Feaver, Weymouth deflects criticism that she chose an insignificant journalist,
but he will be toothless. His choice was greeted by huzzahs on Twitter from former
colleagues. I suggest they check reports from newsroom sources: The reader representative
is a part-time position, and Feaver has been instructed to avoid investigating
Post journalism or the internal workings of the newsroom.

Feaver might have made a strong ombudsman, in the mold of Richard Harwood, the first

Post ombudsman in the 1970s. Or Mike Getler, who’s now ombudsman for PBS. Or Pexton, who
moved the ombudsman’s voice to Twitter and social media. In the role of a classic
ombudsman, they represented the readers by taking comments, digging into the
Post’s practice of journalism, and writing columns that explained how the
Post worked.

But we, the reading public, will never get Feaver’s take on how the
Post covered—or didn’t cover, or covered badly, or covered well—any particular event.
Because under the new rules as the
Post’s first “reader representative,” Feaver will neither write columns for the
Post website nor the Sunday column in the
Washington Post that readers have come to rely on and appreciate for more than three decades.

Unless Weymouth and the
Post change the terms of his role and give him a voice.