Douglas B. Feaver, a founder of the Online News Association who also served as president of the Board of Directors in 2004, died Aug. 28 at the age of 84. His wife, Judy, told The Washington Post that the cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Before becoming ONA’s president, Doug was a board member from 1999-2000 and treasurer in 2001-03. He joined washingtonpost.com in 1997 and retired as its executive editor in 2005, after previous roles at The Washington Post including transportation reporter and business desk editor.
In his terms as treasurer, he “didn’t just oversee ONA’s finances: he deposited the checks, paid the bills, kept the books and handled the tax filings,” former ONA general counsel Jon Hart said. “And Doug provided steady leadership as ONA’s third president, managing the organization during a critical period in its evolution.”
During his tenure, washingtonpost.com took home several Online Journalism Awards. In 2002, the site won a General Excellence in Online Journalism award for its coverage of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The same year, it won an OJA for Enterprise Journalism for coverage of “Blue Wall of Silence,” which covered shootings by police in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The site also won a Creative Use of the Medium OJA in 2004 for the interactive “Defining the Barrier.”
Colleagues remembered that the experienced journalist brought credibility to the newly formed ONA.
“It would be hard to overstate Doug Feaver’s impact on ONA,” Hart recalled. “Doug was one of the reasons ONA grew from a great idea into a great organization. … Throughout his tenure with ONA, Doug brought credibility not only to our fledgling organization but to digital news more generally. In his day job, leading digital transformation at The Washington Post, Doug was visible and highly respected, a journalist’s journalist who believed deeply in the promise of digital news and in the corresponding mission of ONA. His involvement with ONA burnished ONA’s reputation; at a time when ONA needed credibility to succeed, Doug lent ONA some of his.”
Many professional colleagues at ONA and the Post described Doug as a mentor.
“I had the privilege of working with Doug during the emerging years of digital media,” said Ju-Don Marshall, an ONA board member from 2008-10. “At Washington Post Digital, he fostered an environment in which we could experiment with new ways to reach and engage audiences while upholding the highest standards of journalism. … It was Doug who encouraged me and many of my colleagues to get involved with the Online News Association. Even after he retired, he still showed up at conferences.”
Jim Brady, Vice President of Journalism at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and ONA Board President in 2012-13, said, “So much of what I learned about journalism and management came from Doug. He was tough, but always fair. He wanted you to be better, and wasn’t afraid to tell you how to get there. He was as straight a shooter as I have ever met, and one of the great honors of my career was following Doug as executive editor of washingtonpost.com, and then as a board member of ONA. Those were footsteps so worth following.”
Other colleagues said Doug was a leader who saw the value and importance of digital media.
“He saw the future of digital journalism as a necessary companion to print and likely that it would become much more important to younger audiences,” said Tom Kennedy, former Managing Editor for Multimedia at washingtonpost.com. “I think his concern about imbuing the emerging digital world with the fundamental journalistic values he so cherished and believed in led him to take a strong leadership position in founding the Online News Association and promoting it as an organization.”
Bruce Koon, an ONA board member from 2001-06 and President in 2003, recalled, “One of the great things about the ONA founding board and subsequent boards was the variety of ages and experiences members brought to those early years. Doug was older than some of us, but you’d never know it judging by the energy, enthusiasm and darn right giddiness Doug brought whenever we’d gather during those formative years. … I only had the chance to be with Doug a few times a year over a specific period in ONA’s timeline. And yet in remembering that experience, [it brings] such a huge smile to my face. That speaks partially to the exhilaration of those early digital news days. But it’s really about Doug and the impact he had on people around him.”
Doug’s memorial service will be Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. EDT; a livestream will be available (select Sunday & Event Livestream on the page).
Tributes and memories
“I still feel a little guilty about this: In the early days of the organization, Doug hosted one of our board meetings at the Virginia HQ of washingtonpost.com, where he was the editor. I made it clear from the outset that I was only going to serve a couple years as president to get things set up, so we wanted to establish a line of succession where the VP would be expected to step up to become the next president, the treasurer would be expected to step up to become the next VP, etc. In the midst of the meeting, Doug was called away because of some crisis in the newsroom. While he was out of the room, we promptly — and, as I recall, unanimously — elected him treasurer, thus guaranteeing his leadership for the next several years. We were very pleased with ourselves for that particular maneuver, shamelessly taking advantage of his hospitality in hosting us — further evidence of the maxim that “no good deed goes unpunished.” He had, as I recall, a few choice comments for us when he returned to the conference room and found out what we had done in his absence. But he didn’t, thank God, say no. And ONA, and online journalism, were much the better for it.” – Rich Jaroslovsky, a founder of ONA and the first board president
“Doug Feaver became a sort of abrasive and kindly mentor to many of us, though he probably never would have thought of himself that way. He led the Washington Post into the digital age, building one of the best and most innovative online news operations anywhere, and he helped lead the Online News Association into the first rank of journalism organizations. For me, Doug was a shining role model of what online news should be.” – Janice Castro, one of ONA’s first board members and the board’s Vice President in 2003
“Those fortunate enough to have crossed paths with Doug undoubtedly recall the delightful sound of his laughter, a melody that brightened any room. Throughout our shared moments at ONA, laughter was a constant companion, and even after my tenure on the board, I eagerly anticipated our annual conference reunions, where Doug’s warm presence shone. Doug’s affection for Oklahoma was palpable, and I always enjoyed the stories he shared about his early days as a local newspaper reporter. In Doug, we found a wellspring of patience, kindness, and a profound dedication to the future of journalism. His unwavering commitment and years of service at ONA stand as a testament to his enduring legacy.” – Jill Blackman, one of ONA’s first board members and Secretary from 2001-03
“Doug was also an avid cyclist and I enjoyed riding a mountain bike as a hobby so we would talk about biking locations, riding gear etc. on multiple occasions. … His frequent bicycle commuting to the office was a source of amusement to younger colleagues who were several decades removed from Doug’s own age. Being closer to Doug’s age than those colleagues, I was actually inspired by Doug’s commitment to this mode of transportation, both from a health and environmental perspective. Now that I am in my early 70s, I can even more fully appreciate Doug’s commitment to it as a means of staying healthy and coping with the pressures of the newsroom.” – Tom Kennedy, former Managing Editor for Multimedia at washingtonpost.com
“Doug was tasked with being a bridge between new and old at the Washington Post where, in those days, the paper and its website were on opposite sides of the Potomac River. He was not only a natural ambassador, but embraced the digital future with generosity, insight and optimism. It was reflected both in his editorial leadership of washingtonpost.com and his early founding role in ONA, where he helped put the organization on a path to becoming the force that it is today.” – Kinsey Wilson, past ONA board member and President in 2007
“He brought important credibility and gravitas to ONA in its earliest days, but he was also creative, funny and just great to be around. I still have the Online News Association special edition bike shirt we made in honor of Doug. He’s missed.” – Michael Silberman, ONA board member from 2001-04, Vice President in 2005 and President in 2006
“ONA’s fifth annual conference was held in Hollywood at a hotel associated with Wolfgang Puck. Doug was treasurer and I was president. As officers, we were seated side by side on the stage overlooking the banquet room where the lunch was being set up. The wait staff had these elegant black-and-white designer outfits that Doug and I couldn’t help but notice. We exchanged some quips about this being far too fancy for newsroom denizens. But in reality we were quietly glowing that so many journalists were coming together to meet and learn from one another and to celebrate the journey.” – Bruce Koon, an ONA board member from 2001-06 and President in 2003