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Is Pexton Final Ombudsman for The Washington Post?

Daily has Employed Position for 43 Years
By T.C. Cameron

Is the ombudsman position a necessary arbiter for a publication dedicated to being responsive to readers and reporters alike or relic of the pre-Internet era?

Patrick B. Pexton, The Washington Post’s ombudsman for the past two years, wrote last week that he expects his position to be eliminated at the end of his term on Feb. 28. The Post has employed an ombudsman for the past 43 years.

“Discussions are underway within The Post about how to respond to reader complaints and concerns without an independent ombudsman,” Pexton wrote in his Feb. 17 column. “But I think the tea leaves are clear. For cost-cutting reasons, for modern media-technology reasons and because The Post, like other news organizations, is financially weaker and hence even more sensitive to criticism, my bet is that this position will disappear.”

The position is already a rarity. Of the 14 daily MDDC papers, only the Post has continued the position. Most papers now rely on publishers or editors to vet any constructive criticism publically.

Recently retired editor and publisher Tom Marquardt said he “refereed” many issues pertaining to newspaper issues in his former weekly column, but the Annapolis Capital never employed the position during his tenure, which dates back to the 1970s. The Daily Record, which covers business and legal news, has never employed an ombudsman, according to publisher Suzanne Fischer-Huettner.

Pexton admitted no official decision has been made while detailing the case Marty Baron, the paper’s new executive editor, made for both keeping and dismissing the position.

In support of the position, Pexton quoted Baron as saying, “There is value in having someone internally to whom readers can turn when they feel they’re not getting satisfaction from people in the news organization.”

In arguing against continuing the position, Baron said, “There is ample criticism of our performance from outside sources, entirely independent of the newsroom, and we don’t pay their salaries.”

Pexton said the best argument for the position was that he was able to prevent readers from canceling their subscriptions by listening to their complaints. At $383 per year, Pexton claimed he earned his salary in saved subscriptions alone.

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