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A group accuses Miller's reporting of veering into pro-gun-rights advocacy. By Benjamin Freed

Miller. Photograph courtesy WTTG.

Members of a pro-gun-control group want Washington Fox affiliate WTTG to dismiss reporter Emily Miller for her speech last week at a pro-gun rally in Richmond. A petition, being circulated by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, takes umbrage with Miller's longtime advocacy for looser gun regulations, much of which she's documented during her career in journalism.

"In its Code of Ethics, the Society of Professional Journalists states that journalists should 'act independently' by avoiding 'conflicts of interest, real or perceived' and 'political…activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality,'" the petition reads. "By this standard, Emily Miller has no business being the Chief Investigative Reporter for WTTG."

The petition goes on to say that Miller's reportage, which often includes stories about changes to DC's gun laws, verges into outright advocacy, citing her book, Emily Gets Her Gun: ...But Obama Wants to Take Yours, a 2013 chronicle of her becoming a registered handgun owner while living in the District.

"This is the behavior of an activist and pundit, not a journalist," the petition reads. "Given her record, DC residents can’t trust that Miller will provide objective coverage on matters of concern to their city. If WTTG is at all concerned with journalistic integrity, it is time for them part ways with her."

Miller trekked down to Richmond on January 19 to address the Virginia Citizens Defense League during the gun-rights group's lobbying day at the Virginia State Capitol. In her remarks, she—perhaps jokingly—disqualified the District from being part of the nation of which it is the capital on account of its relatively stringent firearms laws.

“I came from DC this morning, which is not part of America, because they don’t recognize the Second Amendment," Miller said.

Miller, who did not respond to e-mailed questions about the petition, did not receive any compensation for her Richmond speech.

Meanwhile, DC's gun-control regime is loosening up a bit. WAMU reports that since October, when a federal judge threw out a city ban on concealed handguns, the Metropolitan Police Department has granted eight concealed-carry licenses, which are awarded on a case-by-case basis.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 03:23 PM/ET, 01/27/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Arlington-based publication embraces a chilly metaphor. By Andrew Beaujon
Winning the snowstorm.

Harry Reid is in winter. No longer Senate majority leader and recovering from a freak accident involving home exercise equipment, the Nevada Democrat "has been burning up the phones with up to 50 calls per day, trying to make clear that he’s still in charge," Manu Raju writes in Politico.

Last spring it was Vice President Joe Biden's turn to experience winter in Politico, "still basically a happy warrior," Glenn Thrush wrote, but trapped "between the presidential dreams he can’t quite relinquish and the shrinking parameters of a job he described to me as derivative.”

Newt Gingrich: That guy totally was in winter, Alexander Burns reported for Politico in February 2012.

Do you seriously think Representative Charlie Rangel isn't going to experience winter in Politico? Baby, it was cold outside in July 2010.

Politico's semiregular embrace of this headline metaphor is not unique to the Arlington-based publication. In the past decade, the Washington Post has written about Robin Williams in winter, called Plácido Domingo a "Lion in Winter" for his performance in Handel's Tamerlano, suggested the white flowers of sweet box to gardeners who desire "Fragrant Lions in Winter," and worried about the cold-weather prospects of "The Jaguars in Winter" as the Jacksonville Jaguars faced the Green Bay Packers at home in December 2004. (Jacksonville squeaked it out, 28-25.)

I'd be amazed if Washingtonian hadn't used a similar headline in its 50-year run (James Goldman's play The Lion in Winter was first performed in 1966, and the Peter O'Toole/Katharine Hepburn film version was released in 1968), but Nexis didn't return anything. When Washingtonian Editor Michael Schaffer edited Washington City Paper, the alt-weekly used the treatment for a story about Marion Barry. The closest thing I could find to a recent version of the headline here was a story by Marisa M. Kashino about why this time of year is pretty good for house-shopping.

Posted at 11:22 AM/ET, 01/23/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Reductions "appear to be small in number," the Guild writes. By Andrew Beaujon
Photograph by Flickr user Max Borge.

In a post on the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild's Facebook page, Guild News co-chair Fredrick Kunkle says the Washington Post has experienced staff reductions "amid rumors about lower-than-expected revenue and budget shortfalls." The reductions "appear to be small in number," Kunkle writes, reminding members of the union they have the right to representation in any transaction with management that "sounds as if it could ultimately lead to disciplinary action or dismissal."

Earlier this month the Post combined its Storyline project with the relatively venerable Wonkblog. It also ended the separate publication of Capital Business in December. "The fact is, the newsroom will continue to see net growth this year," Post spokesperson Kris Coratti tells Washingtonian in an email. "Ongoing changes in the course of a newsroom’s evolution do not always mean cuts."

Here's Kunkle's post, which also refers to reductions the Post said it would make to retirement benefits.


In recent weeks the Post has moved to trim staff amid rumors about lower-than-expected revenue and budget shortfalls.

We can’t speak to the budgetary rumors but we can tell you that we’ve heard about the staff reductions. So far, they appear to be small in number. But, as you might expect, they are of enormous importance to the people who are facing dismissal. So we’d like to remind Guild-covered members of your rights.

In every case that we know of, these employees were blindsided. In one instance, management attempted to stretch the terms of the contract to lay off an employee. In another, management yet again failed to live up to the standards of its performance evaluation system.

Similar to efforts that were more widespread before Amazon multibillionaire Jeff Bezos bought the Post, management cooked up a performance evaluation out of nowhere to try force a buyout. And even in the case of a recent hire who did not have job security because the employee had not served out a probationary period as required by our contract, management could not help tossing in gratuitous - and unfounded - accusations of performance problems.

If this should happen to you, please remember that you are not alone. We're there for you. We would also like to remind you that if you are called in by your manager for discussion that begins to touch on performance and sounds as if it could ultimately lead to disciplinary action or dismissal, you have the right to politely interrupt the meeting and request that a Guild representative be present.

Finally, we would also like to remind everyone - especially since we’re in the Performance Evaluation period - to take periodic steps to document your work and the impact of your work.



PS: Expect a bulletin soon from the company about how the Guild's painstaking efforts to fashion a response to the company's pension grab -- a needless move by the Post's owner that would cost employees here thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, each -- is taking so long that the union is depriving everyone of the 1 percent pay raise the company has already offered.

Posted at 04:48 PM/ET, 01/21/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Does inclusion in the union depend on the restrictiveness of local firearms regulations? By Benjamin Freed

Miller. Photograph courtesy WTTG.

Emily Miller, the chief investigative correspondent at Fox affiliate WTTG, spent part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on Monday in Richmond, telling a group of gun-rights advocates that the District is not part of the nation of which it is marked as the capital on most conventional maps.

"It’s great to be in Virginia, which is part of America, where you recognize the Second Amendment," Miller said at a statehouse rally staged by Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). "I came from DC this morning, which is not part of America, because they don’t recognize the Second Amendment."

Miller's remarks were captured on video by Media Matters for America. Several members of the gun group attended the event carrying weapons varying from handguns to AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

It's possible Miller's remark was in jest. After all, she is a DC resident who has long chronicled her experiences as a gun owner navigating some of the most stringent firearms laws in the United States, which she compiled in her 2013 book, Emily Gets Her Gun: …But Obama Wants to Take Yours. But Miller did not respond to queries asking if she assess a state or city's inclusion in the fabric of the country based the restrictiveness of its gun regulations.

Miller joined Fox last April from the Washington Times, where she had been an editor on the opinion pages. Since jumping to television, she has reported extensively on DC's gun laws, among other stories.

The District's gun-control laws loosened a bit last October after a federal judge ruled a citywide ban on concealed handguns was unconstitutional. The DC Council responded by passing emergency legislation allowing concealed carry, but on a case-by-case basis as evaluated by the Metropolitan Police Department. The plaintiffs in the original case say the new law is still too restrictive, and are asking the judge to hold the District government in contempt, Miller reported last November.

Miller was not paid for her speech to VCDL, whose positions include advocating against background checks for gun purchases and prohibitions on gun ownership for convicted violent criminals. She has also made appearances before other gun-rights organizations. A spokesperson for WTTG, which is one of the Fox Broadcasting Company's owned-and-operated stations, did not clarify what the network's policies are regarding on-air talent making appearances before political groups.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 04:17 PM/ET, 01/21/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Sleater-Kinney has a new album, and it's already been Voxsplained. By Benjamin Freed
Sleater-Kinney at the 9:30 Club in 2005. Photograph by Flickr user Brandon Hirsch.

The reunited punk band Sleater-Kinney is releasing their first album in a decade today, and Vox, the website that wants you to understand the news, is Voxsplaining the signifigance of the group's return. "How Sleater-Kinney became the last great rock band," reads the headline for Kelsey McKinney's piece, which celebrates the band's new LP, No Cities to Love, with the usual Vox formula of critical praise and awkwardly posed questions.

Look, No Cities to Love is a great return for the lineup of Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss after a ten-year hiatus. Brownstein's guitar work is as noisy and distorted as ever; Tucker's voice is still commanding; and Weiss remains one of the most aggressive punk-rock drummers out there. But "last great rock band" is a very declarative assessment, and one that's tossed around way too often by writers attempting to make authoritiative, unquestionable judgment. Once again, it is time to Voxsplain the Voxsplainers.

What is the "last great rock band"?

The "last great rock band" is one of those rockist tropes occasionally invoked when a beloved rock band reaches a career milestone—like a new album after a decade-long breakup—that suggests that rock music is in decline and that no future act will be capable of surpassing the last great rock band's achievements. In other words, it is a cliché, and clichés should be be avoided.

Are you saying Sleater-Kinney isn't that great?

No. Your explainer has been a Sleater-Kinney fan since 2000's All Hands on the Bad One, and strongly encourages you to listen to No Cities to Love, as well as all seven albums Sleater-Kinney released in their initial 11-year run. But criticism that prohibits other artists from meeting or exceeding one group's acclaim is exactly the kind of criticism that makes punk and indie fans come off like a bunch of snobs to the wider music-listening public. Punk and indie rock acts are often defined by their small, niche fan bases rather than their mass-market appeal. You know when the debut album by the Ramones—easily the most famous American punk band—went gold? Last June.

Who is Vox hoping to turn on to Sleater-Kinney?

As an obnoxious rockist, your explainer is all for more people listening to Sub Pop bands, but Vox is built on a model of offering readers tastes of random topics rather than deep dives. See, for instance, today's "Vox guide to getting huge," a quick, but not especially penetrative discussion of why protein supplements do not work unless they are accompanying an intense fitness regimen. That's good advice, and there's always a market for cursory explanations, but it's by no means an authoritative work on getting swole.

Similarly, the Sleater-Kinney piece aims for authority on the band's importance in rock history, but falls short. While it is, as McKinney repeats, a "big deal" that an all-female band like Sleater-Kinney is as loud, energetic, and critically lauded as any of their male peers, the piece channels a timeline in which there were no all-female rock groups before Sleater-Kinney. That would seem to overlook bands like Autoclave, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy (Tucker's first band), and Fire Party. Sleater-Kinney might be more famous than the acts they cite as influences, but, like every just about every other band in history, they were inspired by the earlier work of others.

For a better explanation of how Sleater-Kinney relates to and surpasses the riot grrrl scene of the late '80s and early '90s, we'd recommend Lindsay Zoladz's review of No Cities to Love for Vulture. "Sleater-Kinney remain their generation’s most important feminist band, not because they so neatly and uncomplicatedly embodied the movement’s ideals, but because they showed that it is actually possible to transcend them," Zoladz writes. "By the end of their run, nobody would have been caught dead calling Sleater-Kinney 'pretty good, for girls'—they were and remain great, full stop."

So, who is the last great rock band?

Any band you want, basically. According to the music site Consequence of Sound, it's The White Stripes. According to Jack Black, it's Nirvana. In 2011, the New York Daily News gave U2 the appellation. Creative Loafing Charlotte has wondered if it might be the Avett Brothers. Eugene Weekly in Oregon once made a case for The Replacements. Salt Lake City Weekly wrote in 2008 that it might be Lucero. Also that year, John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote an epic essay for GQ about Axl Rose that claimed Guns 'N' Roses was the last great rock band. But former GNR drummer Steven Adler says the Foo Fighters are the last great rock band. So does Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould. And according to Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher, it's Oasis. (Liam Gallagher has not answered the question on the record, but he probably disagrees with Noel.)

Let's start a band this weekend. Even if it sucks, there's a chance it might be the last great rock band.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 01:20 PM/ET, 01/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Also, revenue is up 25 percent. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Shutterstock.

For its latest act of institutional chest-beating, Politico has installed a siren in its Arlington newsroom that goes off every time the website breaks news, according to an internal memo sent Friday morning by chief executive Jim VandeHei. The siren, per VandeHei's memo, is just one component of Politico's strategy for 2015, a year in which it plans to expand its investigative and enterprise reporting teams and launch a European addition.

The siren, according to Politico staffers, is the noisy brainchild of Blake Hounshell, the site's editorial director.

"Is Blake really installing a siren in the newsroom?" VandeHei writes. "Yes. He and Susan"—Glasser, Politico's top editor—"want people jacked when we break news, whether it's a quick hit from one of our policy teams or a holy-crap scoop from the Congress gang. It has been and always will be our core strength."

Politico is enjoying a run of good fortune. It received two National Magazine Award nominations this week, including general excellence for its bimontly print magazine. Further down his memo, VandeHei writes that Politico was profitable in 2014 and grew its revenue by 25 percent, padded by growth in premium subscription products and live events at both the mothership and Capital New York, which it acquired in 2013. The same formula is in the works for Europe.

"We have spent eight years perfecting a blend of high-end ads aimed at policy and political leaders; high-end subscriptions and first-class events," VandeHei writes. "This worked here, is working in New York, through our sister publication, Capital, and soon will be proven to work in Europe, where this spring our European edition will go live. We are confident we have created a scalable model—so we will scale it, methodically but aggressively."

Although VandeHei says Politico will continue to invest in its paid platforms and longform journalism, do not expect any slowdown in the heavy-artillery coverage of Congress, the White House, and the impending presidential campaign. "The big reason is our ambitions have changed: we not only want to be the dominant publication covering politics and policy in Washington—we want to be the dominant media player in this space nationally AND globally," he writes. "This means we need to up all parts of our game."

While Politico's appetite appears to be expanding everywhere, breaking-news sirens are just a Rosslyn thing, for which Politico Europe-bound reporter Carrie Budoff Brown is relived.

Read VandeHei's full memo below:

Magazine award nominations. Staff coming. Staff going. Europe Expansion. Newsroom sirens.

With so much happening so fast, we all feel dizzy. So I decided to sit down and grill myself on what's really going on behind the curtain at POLITICO. In all seriousness, these are questions I have gotten in my various staff meetings this past week. It makes sense for all of us to know our thinking on them.

I plan on doing a similar note more heavily focused on expansion and business soon, so please keep the questions flowing. Email them to me directly and copy Kayla Cook.

So, what's the deal with the state of POLITICO? There seems to be lots of people coming and lots of people going. Does this suggest a big shift in direction?

There is no media company growing with more conviction and muscle than us. We are investing heavily in going deeper and wider in Washington politics and policy - and expanding nationally AND globally, so the state of POLITICO is strong as hell. We have a leadership team below me that any CEO in our industry would kill for and a Publisher above with more courage and ambition than any peers. More importantly, this place is stacked with talent in editorial, business and technology that makes explosive growth so attainable.

This is a transformational moment for us. And this means some people are leaving and many more have joined and will join. I think people thought we were joking when we said big change was coming. We were not.

But why have people left?

Three things keep in mind here. First, we are a talent factory, and proudly so. This is a big secret to our success. We are as good as it gets in finding, grooming and promoting the best of the best. We help make you better and more valuable. The downside of this: our competitors are very eager to hire this talent. Such is life in a competitive market. Second, we are in the middle of a substantial transformation of our newsroom - basically marrying our killer instinct and news chops with more investigative and deep-dive journalism. This demands an influx of new talent. I hate to see people I admire go. They worked their tails off to make this place great - and deserve nothing but our thanks and appreciation. Third, I think any healthy, high-achieving company must have turnover every year to stay sharp. Keeping the same staff and doing the same thing forever isn't a sign of success - it's stagnation.

The one thing that bothers me about some coverage of comings and goings is the lack of emphasis on the flood of new talent. I would argue we haven't seen this big and sustained influx of big, proven editing and reporting stars since our initial staff-up in 2007.

Has our strategy changed? It seems like there is much emphasis on the magazine or long-form side of things. Isn't that a shift from killer metabolism of old?

Hell NO...and hell yes. We want to sharpen and expand what made us great: the killer instinct, the maniacal focus on scoops and authoritative dominance on politics and policy. That will never change. But that just isn't enough to drive the conversation in 2015. You need to do more because everyone else is trying to be fast and edgy like us. So, we are pouring millions into adding deep-dive, original reporting to the arsenal. It's not either-or. We want to be better - way better - than anyone else at BOTH. That is what we are doing.

Is Blake really installing a siren in the newsroom?

Yes. He and Susan want people jacked when we break news, whether it's a quick hit from one of our policy teams or a holy-crap scoop from the Congress gang. It has been and always will be our core strength.

But why have so many of the recent hires been for enterprise and investigative positions then?

Susan's transformational newsroom plan will take several months to unfold in full. We rock at what we have always done - hence, our endless flow of breaking news on Capitol Hill and the campaign. Her first phase is to build out what we didn't have: editors and reporters to work across the newsroom to deliver investigative and enterprise stories only a place with our talent and expertise can deliver. Phase two will be to fortify the rest of POLITICO, starting with the political team.

Wait: if POLITICO rocks, why change at all?

The big reason is our ambitions have changed: we not only want to be the dominant publication covering politics and policy in Washington - we want to be the dominant media player in this space nationally AND globally. This means we need to up all parts of our game.

A lot of media companies wait until it's too late to sharpen their approach. Complacency is a slow, sly killer. John and I have always promised that we will never let that happen here.

What we are doing is trying to serve our very sophisticated readers and subscribers a combination of speed, authority and hard-to-replicate-or-steal original content. We believe in this short-attention span world of today, this is how you break through, protect and grow your brand and deepen your relationship with your readers, subscribers and advertisers. It is our hope that this mission inspires the most talented editorial, business and technology minds to stay, come and do something important and special on a global scale. And it is our belief that our readers, subscribers and advertisers value us so much because we are relentlessly thinking about how you make great greater.

This makes sense. But then why do I read so much coverage about our moves - some if it critical or snarky - on other sites?

You just can't get worked up about criticism. In fact, you should be humble enough to mine it for any truth. We are not a conventional company. This reminds me of my first cool assignment as a reporter. I am a Packers fanatic. As a young sports reporter in Oshkosh, I was sent to interview Chuck "The Hitman" Cecil, a young safety who hit like a bullet train. He was sitting at a table, mobbed by people. I asked him if this ever gets old, all the swarming and questions and criticism. He said "beats the hell out of being on the other side of the table, ignored." I agree with Chuck.

Are we making money?

We were profitable again in 2014 and grew revenue by 25 percent AND invested big in expansion. Roy Schwartz is a terrific Chief Revenue Officer and his team is on quite a roll. I would be surprised if anybody in media has a more talented and driven business team - or a more ambitious and dedicated Publisher than Robert Allbritton.

We have spent eight years perfecting a blend of high-end ads aimed at policy and political leaders; high-end subscriptions and first-class events. This worked here, is working in New York, through our sister publication, Capital, and soon will be proven to work in Europe, where this spring our European edition will go live. We are confident we have created a scalable model - so we will scale it, methodically but aggressively.

So when will POLITICO Europe go live?

This spring. Harris is leading the expansion into Europe. He hired an amazing editor, Matt Kaminski from the Wall Street Journal, and they are going on a hiring spree. Bill Nichols and Danielle Jones are playing huge roles in helping John pull this off. By the end of the year, POLITICO should have more reporters and editors on politics and policy than any publication on that continent. And our very own Carrie Budoff Brown will be among the star writers for our European edition.

Maybe this is distracting you guys, pulling you away from our core mission?

Nope. We have worked methodically for the past 18 months to make this moment a successful and profitable one for all. We expanded our leadership team - and John and I both took on more expansive roles to handle the various aspects of growth. What should comfort you and leave you with unshakable confidence is that the leadership team below us is insanely talented, high-achieving and capable. This expansion allows leaders like Kim Kingsley to take on bigger, more influential roles and run substantial parts of the company. That's the whole game, folks: having tons of talent to execute a smart, proven plan. Thanks to all of you, we have it. So never lose that swagger. And enjoy this huge growth spurt ahead.

Thanks for reading - and for all you do.


PS - Please do keep firing me questions.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 11:08 AM/ET, 01/16/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Copies of the French satirical magazine are on their way to Washington, but in very limited supply. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Geoff Livingston.

Upping its circulation from 60,000 to 5 million, the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo quickly sold out across Parisian newsstands on Wednesday when it released its first issue since a terrorist attack killed 11 of its staffers and a police office guarding the publication. The attack gave the magazine sudden global notoriety, especially here, where the Washington Post has been running copies of Charlie Hebdo's controversy-stoking artwork and images of its latest front page, which depicts the prophet Muhammed holding up a sign reading "Je suis Charlie."

But anyone who wants an actual copy of the eight-page publication will need to be expeditious about it over the next few days. The entire United States is only getting 300 copies out of Charlie Hebdo's initial print run of 3 million, with small batches being distributed in New York, Washington, California, and a few other pockets with a large number of French speakers, according to Martin McEwan, a vice president at Montreal-based LPNI, which distributes the magazine in North America. Charlie Hebdo hasn't been distributed in the US since 2010, and its typical North American exposure is just 100 copies shipped to Quebec every week.

McEwan says he's "hoping for a heavy up over the weekend" when Charlie Hebdo prints an additional 2 million copies, but for now, he only expects the Washington market to get 30 copies out of the initial pressing. Most of that batch appears destined for The Newsroom, a newsstand and deli a few blocks north of Dupont Circle, although a store employee tells Washingtonian he does not know exactly when Charlie Hebdo will be on its racks. LPNI expects its 300 US-bound copies to arrive Thursday and will then ship a portion of those to Southwest Distribution, a magazine and newspaper wholesaler that distributes periodicals in the Washington area.

If the magazines arrive in DC on Friday, they will most likely go on sale Monday, says Southwest Distribution's Himali Perera, though it is still unclear how much copies will cost. (Charlie Hebdo sells for two euros in France.) Perera says other area stores that sell foreign publications have also requested copies.

Even though Charlie Hebdo's newest cover is again attracting condemnation from Muslim leaders for its visualization of Muhammed, which is prohibited by Islamic law no matter how tastefully drawn, Perera says there is no hesitation in distributing the magazine because of the reasons why it is now a household name.

"This is why people are buying it," she says.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 02:50 PM/ET, 01/14/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Executive editor says the new cover is not "needlessly offensive." By Andrew Beaujon

Two Washington Post stories published Monday evening showed the cover of the satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo. A blog post published by Michael Cavna and a Paul Farhi story about ... the Washington Post publishing the cover both show the artwork, which features the prophet Muhammad holding a sign that says "Je suis Charlie" under the legend "Tout est pardonné" ("All is forgiven").

The Post declined to publish Charlie Hebdo's cartoons in its news pages after two gunmen killed staffers there last week, though its opinion section published in its print edition only a 2011 cover mocking Muhammad. (Some Post blogs ran Charlie Hebdo covers, Farhi writes, "but there is debate about whether those featured Muhammad or were of a generic Muslim man.")

Post Executive Editor Marty Baron, who does not edit the opinion section, told Farhi "Our policy has been to avoid publication of material that is pointedly, deliberately or needlessly offensive to members of religious groups. That remains our policy, but this doesn’t fall into that category.”

The New York Times declined to publish Charlie Hebdo material, and its story about the new cover describes but does not show it. Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told the paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, the question was about “At what point does news value override our standards?" and that an approach like the one the Post opinion section took "is probably so compromised as to become meaningless,” though Sullivan notes he "was speaking generally, not of The Post’s decision."

Posted at 08:59 AM/ET, 01/13/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A rare contraction in the ever-expanding Bezos era. By Andrew Beaujon

The Washington Post will combine Storyline, a data-driven storytelling site it launched last July, with Wonkblog. Both verticals cover public policy.

Staffers were told Monday afternoon that Storyline and Wonkblog would become one.

"When we looked at the best way to maximize readership of our public policy reporting, we recognized that having one central hub made the most sense," the Post's national economy and business editor, Gregory Schneider, tells Washingtonian.

The Post conceived Storyline as a complement to Wonkblog after Wonkblog founder Ezra Klein left the publication to cofound Before Storyline even had a name, Schneider and fellow business editor David Cho said it would "tell stories through the voices of ordinary Americans, we will tell stories with numbers, and we will tell stories with our users’ help."

Jim Tankersley, who joined the Post in late 2012, was named Storyline's editor, and the initiative launched with a fair amount of trumpeting, including some good press and a snazzy video. He'll remain Storyline's editor, Schneider says.

Schneider says the integration will make it "easier for more reporters to contribute the types of stories seen on Storyline, without confusion over where they should live on the site." Storyline staffers are part of the paper's financial team, and the project will still have staffers dedicated to it, he says, but they'll "have the flexibility to contribute to other beats within Financial" and they'll also contribute to Wonkblog, whose ranks will grow.

A Storyline piece published not long after the launch took a gruesome editor's note that said a source had lied to reporter Jeff Guo. Post media blogger Erik Wemple questioned some of the editorial choices on the story, including the decision to describe events as if Guo had witnessed them, which he had not.

Since Jeff Bezos bought the Post in 2013 the publication has added more than 100 newsroom employees and sought a larger national and international audience. This change to Storyline would seem to be a rare contraction.

But Schneider says the move will benefit the Post's audience. "We think this change makes it easier for our readers to find the kind of public policy reporting they are looking for, and to continue to present more of it across the board," he says.

Posted at 10:02 PM/ET, 01/12/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A 2005 court filing says the company kept track of customers like elected officials and corporate bigwigs. By Luke Mullins
Photograph by Flickr user Mike Mozart.

A suburban Washington Comcast office maintained detailed lists of influential customers, including local government officials, business leaders, and a congressional field office, according to a 2005 lawsuit and a person familiar with the case.

The legal documents show that--as of 2005--Comcast Cablevision of Potomac kept “highly sensitive and confidential lists of subscribers, including targeted lists of hundreds of the best (highest revenue producing), highest profile, or most satisfied customers, known as ‘Platinum,’ ‘VIP’ or ‘Happy Customer’ lists.”

A footnote in Comcast's legal filings defined these “VIP” subscribers as “customers who may be an elected official, public figure, or other person of importance.”

A person familiar with the case says that the “VIP” lists consisted entirely of customers in Montgomery County, Md.; the lists included local mayors, city council members, the heads of major corporations, and leaders of civic organizations. No members of Congress appeared on these lists, according to the person familiar with the case, although one congressional field office did.

A Comcast spokesperson declined to explain why such “VIP” lists were compiled or whether the company still maintains such lists. “Comcast does not and has not offered special service, perks or free upgrades to lawmakers or public officials,” the spokesperson said in a statement to Washingtonian.

Philadelphia-based Comcast--the nation’s largest cable operator--is currently seeking regulatory approval for its blockbuster, $45-billion merger with America’s second biggest cable company, Time Warner Cable. If approved, the deal would hand Comcast control of more than a third of the nation’s broadband internet coverage. Comcast has unleashed an influence-peddling blitz to ensure the deal goes through. According to the most recent data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Comcast spent nearly $12 million dollars on lobbying in 2014, the sixth most of any company in America.

Washingtonian reported in December that Comcast's government-affairs team toted "We’ll make it right" cards with "priority assistance" codes that fast-tracked help for congressional staffers, journalists, and other influential Washingtonians who complained about their service.

Tom Karinshak, Comcast’s senior vice president for customer experience, responded to the story on the company’s website. He said Comcast makes the cards available to each of its 80,000 employees, who are then free to hand them out to any customer who complains of cable or internet problems. “The card is not used to target specific customers or parts of the country,” Karinshak wrote.

Responding to questions about the “VIP” customer lists, the Comcast spokesperson said in the statement the company “does not and has not operated a dedicated VIP phone number or Web site in any market including the Beltway region.”

The existence of the “VIP” lists came to light in a little-noticed nine-year-old lawsuit, which Washingtonian recently obtained. In August 2005, Comcast sued Melody Khalatbari, a former public affairs manager responsible for Montgomery County, for misappropriating trade secrets. According to documents Comcast filed in federal court, Khalatbari had left the cable giant for a job with a key competitor, Verizon. But before her departure, Comcast said, Khalatbari transferred more than 75 Comcast files to her home computer. The “VIP” lists were among the documents Comcast accused her of taking.

In court documents, Comcast alleged that Khalatbari planned to use the confidential materials at Verizon and demanded more than $75,000 in damages and an injunction preventing Khalatbari from using the documents. Khalatbari later agreed to return the materials.

Khalatbari could not be reached for comment for this story.

Here's Comcast's 2005 filing:

Comcast filing shows company kept VIP lists

Posted at 02:34 PM/ET, 01/08/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()