Washington Post Ombudsman Signs Off

Andrew Alexander, the Washington Post’s ombudsman for the past two years, signs off today in a column that expresses great admiration for the institution he has served—and frustration at its failures, which add up to what readers and he agreed he has been a drop in quality. He writes:

I’ve written before that The Post on its worst days is better than most newspapers on their best days. In print and online, it retains immense influence through journalism that can frame public discourse. And it still produces stunningly ambitious work, such as last year’s “Top Secret America” project on the huge national security buildup and the “Hidden Life of Guns” series tracking firearms used in crimes. Priced lower than most competitors, the newspaper is a bargain.

But it has become riddled with typos, grammatical mistakes and intolerable “small” factual errors that erode credibility. Local news coverage, once robust, has withered. The Post often trails the competition on stories. The excessive use of anonymous sources has expanded into blogs. The once-broken system for publishing corrections has been repaired, but corrections often still take too long to appear. The list goes on.

It’s obvious that the Post newsroom, on all too many occasions, has either paid insufficient attention to his advice or has ignored it entirely. Perhaps that’s unsurprising. Ombudsmen are never popular inside the organizations they serve, because their job is to hold the insiders accountable.

And never mind the newspaper’s editorial pages, the quality of which has plummeted in recent years. The edit pages have never been part of Alexander’s purview, but they need a reader’s representative vastly more than the news pages, which, as Alexander notes, are still more than capable of doing extraordinarily important journalism.

I had several encounters with Alexander during his tenure. He has been unfailingly gracious, even when we have disagreed on several issues, and when he quoted me he did so accurately and in context—something I cannot say happens consistently..

The ombudsman job at the Washington Post is almost entirely thankless. I can’t imagine why anyone would want it. Alexander Alexander deserves credit for his tenure.

(Photo from Post website)