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WaPo Pulitzer Criticism: Ombudsman Alexander Responds

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A few weeks ago, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander took up the issue of whether the paper's Pulitzer haul "mattered," and concluded that the prizes would help to retain readers, add prestige and enhance the morale of the paper's employees. Of course, what sort of got glossed over was the fact that some of the winners have migrated elsewhere (Anthony Shadid) or taken buyouts (Gene Weingarten) or had never before actually set foot in the Post's newsroom (Kathleen Parker).

Today, apparently spurred by a cache of reader feedback bringing up some of these eerily familiar points, Alexander revisits the issue, and basically decides, well, there's that, but it's all good!

Does the current employment status of the other winners diminish the significance of the awards for The Post, or for the winners? I don't think so. To some extent, the departures of Shadid and Hoffman and the changed employment status of Weingarten may be seen by some readers as examples of last year's upheaval at The Post. There were more buyouts, a new newsroom structure, reductions in content and the most extensive newspaper redesign in more than a decade. But most readers live in the moment and appreciate quality when they consume it.

Well, I hate to harsh the buzz of everyone living in the moment, but I feel obligated to point out some of the interesting omissions here. Gene Weingarten, Alexander admits, "took a Post buyout and is no longer a full-time staffer." But it seems to me that maybe Alexander should have taken the time to address how Weingarten's Pulitzer-winning piece went over at the paper. In a lengthy Washington City Paper piece concerning the transformation of the Post's magazine into a happy place free of depressing features, Weingarten has a feature role:

Publisher [Katharine] Weymouth has stumped all around the Post in favor of a break from what she and the ad people view as a long, dark period in magazine content.

According to Post sources, Weymouth on several occasions lashed out against death and misery in the feature pages, and she even had a hit list of sorts:

Gene Weingarten's dark-yet-gripping dark-yet-gripping piece that took apart the epidemic of parents leaving their children in their car seats, with often tragic consequences

• A story by Caitlin Gibson about a girl born with dwarfism who undergoes painful limb-extension surgery

• A piece discussing the trials of a woman suffering from a horrible disease and those of her husband, the caretaker

• This year's Mother's Day issue, which had features on a mother and her autistic son and on the quadruple amputee, which was in process at the time that Weymouth attacked it as typical of the magazine's tenebrous tendencies.

So, long before Posties gathered to celebrate Weingarten's accomplishments, there was an institutional hostility to the very piece that brought the acclaim. That seems to put the paper at cross-purposes. I imagine that could impact their ability to retain readers and keep staff morale aloft.

Alexander finally mentions the "missing man" from his last piece on the matter, by the way: David Hoffman, who won in the the General Nonfiction category for his book "The Dead Hand, The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy." Alexander notes that Hoffman "left the paper last year in the latest cost-cutting buyout," and "no longer works in the newsroom" despite his billing as a Post "contributing editor."

But we already knew that! I'd like to know more about the persistent rumor that Hoffman found his buyout papers left on his chair with a Post-It note ordering him to "sign this." And, hey! I'd also love to hear more about the way Hoffman's treatment contributed to Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid's decision to ply his trade elsewhere.

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