Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron doesn’t do giddy. He’s a measured man, level of gaze and demeanor. But he sounds almost gleeful about his paper’s prospects. “For the first time in 14 years as the top editor of a newspaper, I will not be doing any budget cuts,” says Baron, who oversaw downsizing at the Miami Herald and the Boston Globe before coming to the Post in January of last year. “It’s great,” he says. “I’m encouraged. I’m optimistic.”
When Jeff Bezos bought the Post in October for $250 million, the media world wondered if he had a plan to revive the paper. Having shed readers, revenues, and reporters for a decade, the Post seemed to have slipped below critical mass on all three. The question boiled down to this: Would Bezos open his wallet? The answer now seems to be yes. “We are hiring like crazy,” says writer and editor Marc Fisher. “It’s been an enormous morale boost.”
The talent drain hasn’t ended. The New York Times continues to treat the paper like a farm team—Nikita Stewart, who anchored coverage of corruption in DC mayor Vince Gray’s 2010 campaign; economics writer Neil Irwin; and politics scribe Jason Horowitz have all defected in the past six months alone. In January, Bloomberg News lured away federal-court reporter Del Quentin Wilber.
But the Post is doing its own poaching. Even as those stars departed, it recruited Adam Goldman, who won a Pulitzer with the Associated Press in 2012 for investigating the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims; Robert Costa and his deep GOP connections from National Review; and Ben Terris from National Journal, replacing Horowitz. Last month, Wesley Lowery, a 23-year-old wunderkind from the Globe, came onboard to cover Congress.
Baron adds that Post watchers should stay tuned: “The hiring you see is just the beginning.”
Bezos is also footing a redesign of the website, where visitors fell to 24.8 million in December (compared with the Times’ 50 million) and which recently lost Ezra Klein, founder of the paper’s popular Wonkblog, when he departed to start a digital publication with Vox Media. Klein has lured away a handful of prolific writers who gave Wonkblog its zip.
Media chatter skewered Bezos and Post leadership for not surrendering the eight-figure start-up cost to keep Klein’s proposed new site under the Post umbrella. But those who know him say Bezos is a methodical investor, not a reactive one. “He’s patient,” says publisher Katharine Weymouth (who notes that the decision to let Klein go was hers). “He has a long-term view.”
It’s true that Bezos has built Amazon in part by plowing revenues back into fledgling programs. It remains to be seen how long his patience will last in the face of operating losses that came in at $49.3 million for the first six months of 2013. It’s worth asking, too, whether money alone will be enough to turn the Post around. But for now, happy reporters and editors are a step in the right direction.
This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
On House of Cards, scheming politicians bribe, blackmail, and ransom their adversaries into doing their bidding. Turns out the producers of the popular Netflix series aren’t much different.
Media Rights Capital, the production company behind House of Cards, recently sent letters to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch saying that if the state doesn’t re-up its film incentive program that gives tax credits to House of Cards and other productions for their business in Maryland, the show might pick up stakes and shoot its third season elsewhere, the Washington Post reports.
“In the event sufficient incentives do not become available, we will have to break down our stage, sets, and offices and set up in another state,” writes Charlie Goldstein, a senior vice president at Media Rights Capital.
House of Cards’s producers got about $11 million back in tax credits for the first season and $15 million for the second season, which premiered last week, according to figures from the Maryland Film Office. In return for the show basing itself in Baltimore and nearby Harford County, state officials say Maryland has enjoyed $250 million in economic activity.
Media Rights Capital wants a similar amount for the third season, but many state officials do not want to pony up that much. Maryland legislators are currently debating whether to increase the state’s tax credit program to a level that would satisfy Goldstein and his fellow producers, or let it revert to the $7.5 million annual cap at which it sat before House of Cards started up. (It was briefly increased to $25 million to accommodate the first two years of House of Cards, with enough left over to reimburse the producers of other shows, like HBO’s Veep, which got $8.9 million over its first two years.) There are currently bills in the Maryland legislature that would raise the cap to $11 million or $18.5 million.
And with the future of the incentive program uncertain, House of Cards is starting to respond by delaying the production of its third season, which was supposed to begin in spring but has been kicked back to June. In his letter, Goldstein says the production delay is to “ensure there has been a positive outcome of the legislation.”
It also gives the show time to look for another shooting location in case the vote doesn’t go its way. Virginia legislators are considering raising their state’s cap on tax credits for production companies to $12.5 million, and other states have no limits at all. One place that will not be in the running in the event House of Cards ditches Maryland the way Frank Underwood bumps off his rivals: DC, the city in which the show takes place but which in real life has no tax-credit program.
Joel McHale, the star of Community and host of The Soup was announced today as the host of the White House Correspondents Association Dinner on May 3.
McHale, who started out as a stand-up and improvisational comic in Seattle, keeps his routine mostly apolitical, but that doesn’t mean he’s a soft-puncher like some of the correspondents association’s favorite entertainers, like four-time host Jay Leno. (For evidence, see McHale's bit on his fellow E! host Ryan Seacrest.)
And as host of The Soup, a program that eviscerates talk shows and reality shows, McHale is well-practiced at skewering high-profile figures with fragile egos. He should have no problem ripping apart a room full of lawmakers, blow-dried cable news hosts, and their Hollwood guests. In fact, he’s already started.
This year’s dinner—or “nerd prom,” as it is referred to by people who actually enjoy the annual confluence of Washington-famous people and actual famous people—will mark the 100th anniversary of the correspondents association, which over the past century has transformed from a clubby trade organization into an overblown party-planning committee whose signature achievement is making a mile-long stretch of Connecticut Ave., Northwest, a traffic nightmare for three days every spring.
And while it’s unlikely McHale will fly as close to the sun as past hosts like Stephen Colbert and Wanda Sykes, who ruffled the proper Washington so much that they were succeeded by hoary lightweights (Rich Little, Jay Leno), there’s a chance that he’s just the right level of mean.
Waking up to a foot of snow, many Washington residents are spending the sudden day off by launching a protest—at Netflix, demanding an early viewing of the second season of House of Cards, which is set to be released at midnight Friday.
But will clamoring from bored, snowed-in Netflix customers prompt the online video service to move the debut of the newest episodes of its flagship series up by a few hours.
.@netflix , the entire east coast has a snow day (including the heart of HOC fandom: DC). Release House of Cards now!— Sarah McBride (@SarahEMcBride) February 13, 2014
Hey @netflix, how about throwing DC a bone and release House of Cards Seasom 2 a day early so we have something to do on our snow day?— Right... (@ExTwtrPat) February 13, 2014
Even Slate is getting in on the act, with Brow Beat blogger David Haglund posting an epistolary plea for an earlier view.
"I know you have a whole host of viewing options, but the only thing that will keep us entertained for the amount of time we have to kill is a gripping, twisty drama 'designed to be binge-watched,' like, say, House of Cards," Haglund writes. "And not the first season. We watched that already. It was great! Now we need Season 2. Today."
But sadly for Haglund and all the other needy House of Cards fans, Netflix is responding about as warmly as Frank Underwood, the scheming Vice President-designate played by Kevin Spacey.
"No, unlikely :(," Netflix spokeswoman Karen Barragan writes in an email.
So what's a few more hours, anyway? The new season of House of Cards will be available at midnight, and then you can watch all night and show up to work on Friday morning bleary-eyed, but at least you'll be up-to-date.
And if you are looking for something to "binge-watch" today, there are far more appropriate viewing options for the weather. The Winter Olympics are on. Or, if you really need a scripted cable drama, why not fire up HBO Go and refresh yourself on Game of Thrones instead? It's like North of the Wall out there, anyway.
French President François Hollande is in Washington this week alone, having recently split from his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, amid the news that he's been carrying on an affair with actress Julie Gayet.
But just because Hollande is flying solo at tonight's state dinner at the White House, it doesn't mean Gayet is entirely out of the picture. Although most of her films have not had a North American release, Gayet can be seen currently in the music video for "Waiting for You," a dream-pop track by the indie duo Minor Alps, a collaboration between Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws and Lemonheads bassist Juliana Hatfield.
The video for the airy song, which was uploaded to YouTube on January 30, features Gayet walking around a French city, spliced with shots of her in an apartment and waiting in a laundromat. And while Gayet's newfound notoriety has given Hollande weeks of tabloid headlines, Minor Alps's debut album, Get There, released last October on Barsuk Records, is enjoying the publicity.
Mon dieu. Capitalizing on the media frenzy in both Washington and Paris over French President François Hollande’s coming stag to tomorrow night’s state dinner at the White House, Pascal Rostain, a French papparazzo with a reputation for stretching the truth says that the Washington Post is about to drop a major bombshell that President Obama is having an affair with his good friend Beyoncé.
On Monday, Rostain told a French radio station that the Post will run a story tomorrow that, if it were true, will consume the world’s attention. “You know, at this time, the United States, there is something big that is happening,” Rostain said. “Besides, it’ll go out tomorrow in the Washington Post—we can not say that it is the gutter press—an alleged affair between President Barack Obama and Beyoncé. I can assure you that the world will talk about it.”
“This is absolutely untrue,” Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti tells Washingtonian, adding that she has “no idea” how Rostain came up with his story.
So far, though, the ranks of those taking Rostain’s allegations seriously seem to be confined to the French gutter, with Gala, a tabloid magazine, also running his “scoop.” The normally reserved French daily Le Figaro, whose “cultural reporter” also reported Rostain’s comments, admitted that Rostain is not a credible narrator, calling him a “filou,” or swindler.
UPDATE 02/06: Rick LePere’s memorial service will be at 4 PM on Wednesday, February 12, at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church (3630 Quesada St., NW, Washington, DC, located just off Chevy Chase Circle), with a reception to follow at Columbia Country Club (7900 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase, MD).
Richard L. LePere, 68, died of natural causes at his Washington, DC, home on February 4, 2014. Carol, his wife of 37 years, son Alex, and daughter Dana were with him.
Rick was born on August 11, 1945, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, one of eight children of Antonio and Katherine LePere. Surviving are his sisters Katie and Joann; he was predeceased by his sisters Rose Marie and Liz and brothers James, Anthony, and Bobby.
After high school, he came to Washington in 1963; his first job was as a night cook at a White Castle hamburger restaurant in downtown DC. He then worked in the mailroom of Broadcasting magazine, followed by a job in the mailroom of US News & World Report, where he drew the attention of company executives and was transferred to the magazine’s circulation department.
By the age of 30 he was shaping the circulation strategy of US News; he then went out on his own, helping magazines across the country to build their readership and advising entrepreneurs on how to start magazines. By the late 1970s, he was helping publications with their overall business strategies, and he often assisted in the buying and selling of magazines. For many years he maintained an office at Washingtonian, one of his longtime clients.
In the 1960s, he was a member of the Air National Guard, and during the Vietnam War he served in the US Air Force, mostly in Japan.
A private family burial service will be held on February 6, to be followed at a later date with a celebration of his life at Columbia Country Club.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in Rick’s name can be made to the Yellow Ribbon Fund, an organization that helps injured service members.
Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos has absorbed the responsibility—much of it critical—for not keeping Ezra Klein and his proposed new digital-media venture at the Post.
How could Bezos, the digital entrepreneur who created Amazon.com, not buy into Klein’s vision of a website devoted to delivering news and opinion at the digital edge of journalism? How could he allow the phenomenally prolific creator of the Post’s Wonkblog to take his talents elsewhere?
Actually, Post publisher Katharine Weymouth was the decider.
“It just didn’t make sense for us,” Weymouth tells Washingtonian. “Ezra didn’t want it to be part of the Post. It would be completely separate and quite resource-intensive.”
Klein first brought his proposal to Post executive editor Martin Baron in December. Baron recommended Klein go directly to Weymouth, who runs the Post’s business side. Klein met with Weymouth and described his new venture in a memo with a full business plan, including projected expenses and revenues.
Weymouth says she examined the business plan for what she termed “a kind of authoritative wiki,” and decided the investment didn’t make sense. Klein reportedly projected the cost of building his new venture to be upward of $10 million, with up to 30 employees.
“It seemed to be potentially a bigger distraction that would take resources without building the Post,” Weymouth says. “Had he wanted to keep Wonkblog within the Post, that would have been a different story.”
Weymouth sent Klein’s proposal with her decision against funding it to Bezos. She did not hear back from him. In other words, Bezos accepted her decision to go thumbs down on Klein’s proposition.
Weymouth said she was “not shocked” that Klein would present her with a bold plan to create his own digital news operation. She described Klein, 29, as “young, smart, and entrepreneurial.” She explained her decision to spike Klein’s proposal face to face.
“I admire him and emphasized that we wanted very much to leave the door open to working with us in the future,” Weymouth says.
Neither Bezos nor Klein responded to questions of whether they had had any contact after Weymouth declined the offer.
The heart of Weymouth’s case was that there’s no guarantee Klein’s publication will be profitable.
Wonkblog has reportedly attracted 4 million visitors a month while Klein ran it at the Post, but income from that number of eyeballs will not support a new, independent newsroom of the scope and size Klein envisions. And according to the Post, Wonkblog averaged 2.7 million visitors a month in 2013, rather than 4 million.
Klein announced this week he will establish his new publication with Vox Media. It’s scheduled to debut this spring as “a site that’s as good at explaining the world as it is at reporting on it,” Klein wrote on Vox’s technology site, the Verge.
More than a few news commentators and analysts panned the Post for allowing another talented writer take his energies elsewhere. “You idiots!” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on his blog earlier this month. Klein’s exit invited comparisons to Post writers John Harris and Jim VandeHei, who left the Post to start Politico.
Weymouth, the granddaughter of legendary publisher Katharine Graham and the last family member at the Post’s helm, is bullish on the enterprise Klein is leaving behind.
“Wonkblog is staying at the Post,” she says, “and we are going to invest heavily in building on what it is today. We had hoped that Ezra would want to lead that, but he wants to build something very different.”
This post has been updated from a previous version.
Ezra Klein, the founder of the Washington Post’s popular number-crunching column Wonkblog is leaving the paper to launch a new website after the Post declined to fund a major expansion of Wonkblog online.
Klein’s departure was widely rumored after a report earlier this month that Post publisher Katharine Weymouth and new owner Jeff Bezos turned down Klein’s request for at least $10 million to launch an explanatory journalism platform that would have run independently of the flagship paper.
“When Ezra joined us in 2009, he was a wunderkind blogger with brash confidence and a burning desire to write a column in the print newspaper,” a Post memo reads. “As he leaves us, Ezra is still a brash wunderkind, but now his burning desire has a grander scope: He is looking to start his own news organization, an ambition that befits someone with uncommon gifts of perception and analysis.”
Klein had pitched Weymouth and Bezos on a project devoted to “explanatory journalism on a wide range of topics beyond political policy,” asking for an eight-figure sum and a staff of more than three dozen. But the Post, which some would say already specializes in explanatory journalism on a wide range of topics, declined to fund it, or even propose a counter-offer, Politico reports.
Wonkblog, the section Klein launched when he joined the Post in 2009, will remain a brand within the Post. Klein is taking two other staffers, Dylan Matthews and Melissa Bell, to his new outfit.
Klein’s move to an independently financed venture built around a personal brand follows a model previously established by other journalists like Nate Silver, who is relaunching his 538 website at ESPN; Glenn Greenwald, who is preparing to launch a site backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar; and Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, who quit the Wall Street Journal to create the tech news site ReCode.
The National Zoo's hype giant panda cub Bao Bao's public debut—8 AM on January 18, so start camping out now—has reached the level at which the zoo is now hyping the hype. The zoo's widely followed Twitter account just dropped this bombshell:
Whatever could the photo be? The zoo's Instagram account is currently empty, but considering that Bao Bao's visage currently graces the rest of the Smithsonian's social media portfolio, as well as the current issue of Smithsonian magazine, one can safely assume what the National Zoo's inaugural Instagram shot will depict.
But what to make of this "new angle"? Bao Bao has already been photographed from the front, the sides, and from above. Perhaps she'll be suspended in mid-air?
UPDATE, 1/15/14: Actually, the zoo's debut Instagram item is a video. "Bao Bao #selfie video? Um, yes please," the caption reads. But, as any novice Instagram user is aware, the video below does not qualify as a "selfie," as Bao Bao's front paws are clearly visible the entire time, thus making it impossible that the five-month-old cub took the video herself. Also, pandas lack the opposable thumbs required to grasp a mobile phone and shoot an Instagram video.