WashPost's Website Needs An Ombudsman

December 12th, 2005 11:42 AM

washingtonpost.com is its own kingdom in many ways, with more content, more readers and at least as many issues that beg for accountability as the newspaper. So bravo to Post ombudsman Deborah Howell for writing about the website in her Sunday column. Most visitors to the site have no idea how separate the operations are, but its reporters sure do:

Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing," which is highly opinionated and liberal. They're afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.

John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, "The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset -- our credibility" as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column "that we would never allow a White House reporter to write. I wish it could be done with a different title and display."

Harris is right; some readers do think Froomkin is a White House reporter. But Froomkin works only for the Web site and is very popular -- and Brady is not going to fool with that, though he is considering changing the column title and supplementing it with a conservative blogger.

He's been considering it for awhile now. Here's an exchange from a live chat Oct. 19:

Ashland, Mo.: Do you expect to affiliate with someone to do a daily column that is as pro-Bush as Mr. Froomkin's column is anti-Bush?

Jim Brady: As a columnist, Dan does have the right to take the position he wants, so I don't have an issue with that. But we are always striving for ideological balance, and we are in fact looking to add some conservative voices to the Opinions area of the site.

I hope Howell's phrasing doesn't mean Brady has backtracked from the idea of adding conservative voices and now is deeply pondering whether to add one whole conservative to the site. Because, as I've said before, it's not just Froomkin, it's every political or cultural opinionator I can think of there--Froomkin, The Nation alum Jefferson Morley, Terry Neal, Emily Messner, ... they all hail from left of center, some more than others.

Howell agrees that Froomkin's column needs a different banner--and Froomkin doesn't mind, which is nice. From Howell's column:

Froomkin said he is "happy to consider other ways to telegraph to people that I'm not a Post White House reporter. I do think that what I'm doing, namely scrutinizing the White House's every move -- with an attitude -- is in the best traditions of American and Washington Post journalism."

If Froomkin's column is in the best tradition.....

But move along, you'll love this:

Some Post reporters don't appreciate that links are put on the Web site to what bloggers are saying about this or that story -- especially when the bloggers are highly negative.

Well. I feel just awful now.

Cross-posted at PostWatch