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Unclear on the Concept of "Ombudsman"

The ombudsman of a newspaper--say, Deborah Howell of the Washington Post--is supposed to work for the newspaper's readers. Deborah Howell tells the Post's readers that she has no comment on the Ben Domenech affair because "The Washington Post has not hired him. The website has. The two are under totally different management. He will not be working for the newspaper. If you want to complain to the right person, try executive.editor@wpni.com."

But if you're not a reader of the Post talking to your representative, the ombudsman, you get a different story from Deborah Howell:

The (brief) life and (quick) death of a blog: Washingtonpost.com hired GOP operative Ben Domenech, a 24-year-old wonder boy with virtually no journalism background, to add an explicitly conservative voice.... It turns out there were strong indications that he was a serial plagiarizer. He resigned... and Post officials said he would have been fired had he not resigned.

It just happens that former Pioneer Press editor Deborah Howell, now the Post's ombudsman, was in our newsroom today for a Q&A session on journalism topics. I asked her about the Domenech affair. Her reply: "I can't defend it. It's a f**in' disaster."

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