New Washington Post Reader Representative Hire Shows Reduced Role Is New Normal

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The Washington Post announced that Alison Coglianese would be its new reader representative. The appointment of Coglianese appears to show that the Post's policy of eliminating an independent critique ofthe paper's coverage is its new standard, despite criticism and warnings from previous ombudsmen for the publication.

After having an independent ombudsman on contract to review the paper's reporting for 40 years, the Post killed the position in 2013 and hired former Post editor Doug Feaver out of retirement in the newly-created role of reader representative, in a part-time capacity. The Post explained at the time that "unlike ombudsmen in the past, the reader representative will be a Post employee."

Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said at the time that Feaver would use his position to "hold us all properly accountable." But in fact, in his time at the paper, Feaver mostly published blog posts aggregating reader comments without any commentary, while also privately responding to reader questions and complaints. Feaver lasted less than a year in his position, departing in January.

The last Post ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, told Media Matters that after reading Feaver's blog posts, "it seems his instructions probably included, or he chose himself, not to make any judgments and I think the key thing an ombudsman does is make judgments."

Former Post ombudsmen told Media Matters that the elimination of the ombudsman position was a mistake for the paper. Andy Alexander said, "there is a huge difference between an ombudsman who merely reflects what readers are saying, as opposed to an ombudsman who has the independence and authority to ask uncomfortable questions of reporters and editors and then publicly hold the newsroom to account."

Coglianese's responsibilities appear to track those of Feaver's. In a memo from the Post, it was announced that Coglianese would "help make sure that reader questions and complaints are directed to the right place and responded to appropriately" and "will also answer questions from time to time on the Ask the Post blog."

Coglianese graduated from DeSales University in 2008 and worked at a local Pennsylvania newspaper before joining the Post in May 2011 as first Pexton's assistant and then Feaver's deputy. Before coming out of retirement to create the reader representative position, Feaver had worked at the Post for 37 years.

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