"[R]elevance is key," Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander wrote at the end of his
. The column had begun with one reader's complaint about the Post's unexplained description of a convicted rapist as an "ex-Marine"—turns out the guilty party was in the Marines when the crime was committed, and paper got sloppy about including the necessary background boilerplate in its ongoing coverage—and then wandered off into ombudsbabble about the lazy use of stereotyping labels in news coverage, even though this case didn't really have anything to do with that. Did you know that the Post forbids the use of "'hard-drinking' Irishman"? Now you do.
Descriptors like "ex-Marine" can give readers a helpful depiction of people in the news. But these shorthand labels and phrases, routinely used to describe everything from ideology to physical appearance, prompt a steady stream of complaints to the ombudsman when readers think they are inaccurate, misleading or unnecessary.
How steady can that stream of complaints be? The
—billed as a source for "daily updates"—has seen three posts since the end of August. On September 12, having written no other posts yet that month, Alexander announced he would be on vacation till late September. On September 29, he reappeared to write that the Post was dropping massage ads. On October 12, he wrote a follow-up post to his ombudsman's column about the Post spiking a cartoon it feared would offend Muslims.
Since then, through the stretch run of a contentious election season and waves of media minicontroversies: zero. Remember when the Post decided to run an online commentary—in response to the campaign to discourage suicide among gay teens—declaring that homosexuality was "abnormal" and "harmful" ? And then the Post got snippy about it on Twitter ? And had to put out a memo about social-media policy? None of that rated a mention from the ombudsman.
Why is the ombudsman using his column to deal in generalities? Are the readers all happy? Have they simply stopped caring? Does Alexander have nothing to do, or he is just doing nothing?