Sam Zagoria, a 1955 Nieman Fellow and former Washington Post ombudsman, died at his home in San Francisco on April 2 after suffering kidney failure. He was 98.
A political reporter for The Washington Post following World War II, Zagoria spent much of his career working in government and labor relations—including as an appointed member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission under President Jimmy Carter—before returning to the Post to serve a two-year term as the newspaper’s ombudsman in 1983.
Born in Somerville, New Jersey, Zagoria edited his high school newspaper and received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Rutgers University in 1941. He served with the Army Air Forces in the Pacific during World War II before joining The Washington Post in 1946, where he spent close to a decade covering D.C. government and Capitol Hill. In 1953, was elected chairman of the Washington Newspaper Guild.
Following his Nieman Fellowship year at Harvard, during which he took a class with economist and future labor secretary John T. Dunlop, he pursued a career in government, first spending a decade as an administrative assistant to Senator Clifford P. Case of New Jersey before being appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the National Labor Relations Board in 1965. Zagoria later served as director of labor-management relations at the U.S. Conference of Mayors before President Carter—after first unsuccessfully nominating him for a Republican seat on the Federal Election Commission—appointed him, unopposed, to a seven-year term on the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Zagoria returned to The Washington Post in 1983 to serve as News Ombudsman, addressing reader complaints and writing critiques of inaccuracy and perceived bias, both in daily reports for the staff and a weekly column in the paper’s editorial pages.
After his two-year stint as ombudsman, Zagoria became a labor arbitrator and taught several journalism and labor relations classes, including as an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University and Wake Forest University. He continued to write for several publications, including Nieman Reports, and also authored two books, “Public Workers and Public Unions” (1972) and “The Ombudsman: How Good Governments Handle Citizens’ Grievances” (1988).
Zagoria is survived by his wife, Sylvia Bomse Zagoria; three children; a sister; and several grandchildren.