Aug 2011: The Washington Post mourns its own slow death

“I’m worried about The Post’s position in the Washington and national media markets,” the storied newspaper’s ombudsman Patrick Pexton wrote today in an op-ed. “… The strategy for The Post to be ‘the indispensable guide to Washington,’ although fine as far as it goes, is too much about marketing and not enough about mission. Where is The Post going journalistically, and how will it get there?”

It’s no coincidence that Pexton’s op-ed comes two days after parent company The Washington Post Co. reported that second quarter earnings fell 50% year-over-year. Most of that loss was felt in the education wing of the company, but the newspaper’s revenue also dropped 6% year-over-year.

We all have to die some day, I suppose. The tragedy here is that The Washington Post is selling its soul in the process. The newspaper is focusing more and more on fluff and less on beefing up the quality of its 625-person newsroom, as Pexton highlights in his op-ed:

“The rising demand for Washington news is why Bloomberg started its Bloomberg Government operation, investing as much as $100 million … That’s why Politico succeeded … That’s why Reuters …  is ramping up its Washington coverage and recently nearly stole The Post’s premier political reporter, Dan Balz. And that’s why the New York Times brought to its Washington bureau a lot of top talent from The Post’s newsroom. ….

“But The Post is still shrinking, still cutting newsroom costs while others are growing.The company is putting its energy into non-journalism ventures – Service Alley, The Capital Deal, Master Class, Washington Post Live. All are innovative endeavors that will help The Post Co.’s bottom line over time. But I see less energy and enthusiasm in the journalism and more of a defensive crouch. …

“The Post can’t be a liberal publication or a conservative one. It must be hard-hitting, scrappy and questioning – skeptical of all political figures and parties and beholden to no one. … It needs to be less bloodless and take more risks when chasing the story and the truth.”

Good luck.

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