Veteran editor, ex-Post ombudsman Howell dies

AP News
Posted: Jan 02, 2010 1:13 AM

Former Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell, a veteran editor who helped lead two news organizations to three Pulitzer Prizes, has died. She was 68.

Howell suffered fatal injuries when she was struck by a car while vacationing in New Zealand, stepson Nick Coleman said Friday, speaking by phone from Minnesota.

Steve Newhouse, chairman of, worked closely with Howell during her tenure as Washington bureau chief and editor of Newhouse News Service. He described her as a remarkably skilled editor.

"I don't think I've ever met anyone with as much passion for news and as much creativity and as much of a feeling for what it takes to be a great editor," Newhouse said.

Raised in Texas, Howell worked for newspapers there before moving to Minnesota to work as a reporter and editor for the Minneapolis Star. She later was top editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, leading it to two Pulitzers.

Her staff at Newhouse News Service also won a Pulitzer while she was there.

She joined The Post in 2005 as ombudsman, a job in which she advocated for the interests of readers, and held the position until 2008.

"My values simply are these: Journalism should be as accurate as human beings can make it and it should be enlightening, fair, honest and as transparent as possible," she wrote in her first column as ombudsman, in October 2005. "Mistakes should be acknowledged and quickly corrected. When you finish reading The Post, you should feel more informed than when you began. I truly believe a democracy can't operate without a free press. But I also can't live without 'Doonesbury' or 'Opus' on Sunday."

At the time of the accident, she was vacationing with her husband, former University of Minnesota president C. Peter Magrath. She was previously married to Coleman's father, former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Nicholas Coleman, until his death in 1981.