Ombudsman: Sorry, Readers, the Washington Post Can't Afford Accuracy Anymore

A blog about politics, sports, media, stuff
Aug. 31 2010 10:30 AM

Ombudsman: Sorry, Readers, the Washington Post Can't Afford Accuracy Anymore

Andrew Alexander, the Washington Post's Ombudsman, pretended to share the readers' concerns about the paper's declining standards of quality and accuracy in his latest column. The subject was a "credibility gap" created by the proliferation of small, sloppy errors in the Post's published stories. The ongoing poor quality, Alexander wrote, is "like a cancer." The mistakes "erode confidence" and can be "embarrassing." They are "inexcusable."

Then Alexander excuses them:


But a prime cause of increased mistakes is The Post's necessary cost-cutting that has resulted in far fewer people being pressed to do much more. The ranks of The Post's full-time copy editors have been reduced by roughly half since 2005. Many who remain are among the best in the business. But even with the help of part-timers, their dramatically expanded online duties have stretched them thin. 

As any good copy editor would recognize, this is begging the question—not in the popular, incorrect sense of the phrase, but in the correct sense: the ombudsman is assuming the truth of the proposition he's supposed to be trying to prove. Those particular cuts were not "necessary." The Post decided that the copy desk was the safe place to make crippling budget cuts, because copy editors' quality-control work goes on in the background.

Given the paper's budget crisis, there wasn't a good solution. Wherever it cut back, it was going to shortchange the readers. But it's useless for the ombudsman to denounce shoddy standards in one breath while endorsing the decision to have sacrificed those standards. The Post had a choice between amputation and cancer. It picked cancer, and it hoped nobody would notice.

Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 2:35 PM Germany’s Nationwide Ban on Uber Lasted All of Two Weeks
The Vault
Sept. 16 2014 12:15 PM “Human Life Is Frightfully Cheap”: A 1900 Petition to Make Lynching a Federal Offense
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.