Move over, Courtland Milloy and John Kelly. Following Kelly’s plea to cyclists to get off downtown sidewalks on Tuesday and Milloy’s cri de coeur against “biker terrorists” on Wednesday, it appears that nearly all of Washington Post Metro columnists are having their say in the Great DC Bike Debate of Mid-July 2014. Here’s a handy guide to what Post Metro columnists think of you and your bike (so far).
Disposition: Finger-wagging disappointment at cyclists who ignore the District’s ban on cycling on downtown sidewalks.
Excerpt: “Maybe pedestrians could politely mention to cyclists that they shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk. But that’s not without its dangers. A while back My Lovely Wife did that on 20th Street NW, and the guy launched into a profanity-laced tirade, which I acknowledge is really the best kind of tirade but which is still not something you want to be on the receiving end of.”
Should you ride your bike around him?: Yes. But for heaven’s sake, stay the heck off the sidewalk!
Disposition: Concern-trolling justifies incitment to violence.
Excerpt: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”
Should you ride your bike around him?: Normally, one should not feed the troll. But cycling is a fun, healthful, and productive activity, so yes, you should ride your bike around Milloy. Don’t forget to bring 40 of your friends and a small media circus, and be polite.
Disposition: Channeling Los Angeles police-beating victim Rodney King, Dvorak writes, “Can’t we all get along?”
Excerpt: “Bottom line: Everyone is right. And wrong. Too many cyclists ride the streets and sidewalks like they’re above the law and own the place. Too many drivers haul around town in a ton of metal, oblivious that a careless right turn can kill someone.”
Should you ride your bike around her?: Yes, but obey traffic laws to the letter (no Idaho stops!), stay in marked lanes where available, engage other people using the road with courtesy, and remember to wear a helmet. In the event your bike is a car, please do the same.
Disposition: Lighten up, cyclists, Courtland Milloy was just joking!
Excerpt: “No side-driver or biker has cornered the market on courtesy and good sense. Pedestrians aren’t exactly good traffic models, either. None of us will be going away.”
Should you ride your bike around him?: Um, maybe? Today’s he’s counseling everyone to chill out. But back in 2002, he said of bikers on WTOP, “They are as dangerous as anthrax. And just as sneaky.”
Disposition: He hasn’t joined in the scrum this week. But last July, he encouraged greater investment in bike lanes and Capital Bikeshare. (Is July Bike Month at the Post, or something?)
Excerpt: “The public needs to insist that its tax dollars pay for a balanced approach that will yield the greatest overall reduction in congestion.”
Should you ride your bike around him?: Yes, but if he starts talking wonky, run the next red light and leave him the dust.
On May 8, Donald Graham chairs his public company’s last annual meeting at the Washington Post’s longtime home on DC’s 15th Street, Northwest. The gathering ends a months-long parade of moist-eyed valedictories in the building where Graham’s mother, Katharine, built a media power from her father’s newspaper, which Graham sold last year to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million.
But nobody in the room will be crying for Don Graham, least of all Graham himself. His renamed firm, Graham Holdings, is headed toward doubling its stock price in the past year. The day the Post sale went through, in October, the stock hit a five-year high.
In its most recent SEC filing, Graham Holdings reported $570 million in cash on hand. Since then, the company added $159 million from the sale of its headquarters (the Post is reportedly negotiating to move into 1301 K Street, Northwest, next year) and expects about $95 million from its share of Apartments.com, which sold in March. With steady profits from TV stations, Graham Holdings is a $5-billion company in the market for new ventures. Indeed, the company, which moves to Rosslyn’s Arlington Tower in August, has branched out into health care with a hospice firm; last year it bought Forney, a company that makes equipment for power plants.
Graham’s expansion counters the conventional wisdom that his fortunes are too much tied to Kaplan, the company’s for-profit education division. Once a cash cow, Kaplan has seen declining revenues, according to SEC filings. Federal regulators, Iowa Democratic senator Tom Harkin, and most recently President Obama have been questioning the high default rates on federal loans that support for-profit colleges like Kaplan’s. According to Graham Holdings’ recent SEC filing, Kaplan faces multiple lawsuits and investigations launched by attorneys general in four states. “It’s still a troubled sector,” says Liang Feng, an equity analyst with Morningstar. “It presents the most uncertainty.”
Graham clearly feels Kaplan can be salvaged. He has been lobbying senators and the White House on its behalf, meeting with regulators, and positioning himself as an expert on education reform. In a February 24 Post op-ed, he supported schools chancellor Kaya Henderson against meddling DC Council members, calling mayoral hopeful David Catania “a bully.”
Which brings us back to the loss of the Graham family’s institution. Don Graham has, in a real sense, been able to sell his paper and keep a grip on it, too. His niece Katharine Weymouth has stayed on as publisher of Washington Post Media while sitting on the board of Graham Holdings. And if he wants to publish an opinion piece, he can offer it to his friend and former employee Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial-page editor.
Graham, 69, lives in a lovely brownstone on DC’s Hillyer Place, around the corner from the Phillips Collection, near Dupont Circle. He declined to discuss business or personal matters, but word is he’s spending more time with his second wife, Amanda Bennett, who left Bloomberg News last November. He works with a daughter, Laura O’Shaughnessy, CEO of SocialCode, an advertising firm that’s one of Graham Holdings’ fastest-growing subsidiaries.
Among his friends, he counts Warren Buffett, to whom Graham recently traded a Miami TV station, stock, and cash for Buffett’s $1.1-billion stake in Graham Holdings. The deal, which will save both companies hundreds of millions in taxes, effectively takes the Berkshire Hathaway founder, a longtime investor in the Post, out of the Graham company.
If the two disagree, it may be over Buffett’s recent habit of buying newspapers. If stockholders ask at this month’s meeting if Graham is in the market for a print publication, the answer is likely to be no.
This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli this morning announced another round of buyouts—the fifth since 2003—but this one sounds more like a layoff.
For one, the Post will offer the buyouts to selected individuals. And this time, Brauchli explicitly says, “We may turn down some volunteers if we feel their departure would impair our journalism.”
More than a few Post writers were taken off guard by Brauchli’s buyout alert. Asked last week in chats with reporters if rumors of a buyout were true, he put them down.
“He lied,” says one reporter.
No doubt the Post must reduce its costs. Revenues for the Post Company plunged last year due to declining enrollment in Kaplan, the company’s for-profit college. And the newspaper division continued to lose advertising revenue and readers. In the third quarter of 2011, print advertising revenue was down 13 percent. Daily circulation fell 5.4 percent.
Brauchli said, “It is important that we achieve real savings.”
For veteran reporters, those savings will come by lopping off higher salaries. Brauchli mentioned that “we will continue making tactical hires, so that even as we get smaller, we get stronger.”
In the newsroom, that means hiring younger, less expensive staffers.
Brauchli’s memo was short on details, but he called for two “Town Hall meetings,” one at 11 AM and another at 4:30 today.
He has some explaining to do.
Here comes Rick Perry, another swashbuckling governor from Texas who would be President. Social Security’s a Ponzi scheme! Time for Texas to secede! Ben Bernanke might be treasonous!
“Think he’s crazy?” asks Jay Root, who covers Perry for the Texas Tribune. “Watch out—Rick Perry has the best political radar that’s ever been created.”
“This guy’s political instincts are incredible,” says Todd Gillman, Washington bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.
Post watchers are chewing over the decision of Washington Post officials to close suburban bureaus, trying to figure out the true impact on local coverage and implications for the newspaper’s future.
“We take them at their word,” said reporter and union leader Fred Kunkle, “but we’re worried this means we won’t be committed to aggressively covering the region.”
“I hope this is truly not a retrenchment,” said Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton.
The truth is that the Post quit aggressively covering the Washington region years ago, perhaps as early as 2000. And executive editor Marcus Brauchli’s surrender to the business side’s pressure to close bureaus is beyond retrenchment—it’s a retreat.
President Barack Obama receives a national security briefing from John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism, in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, Aug. 19, 2011. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
If you read a Washington Post story from Martha’s Vineyard about President Obama’s vacation on the island, it will most likely be coming to you second-hand. For the first time in recent memory, the Post has decided not to send a reporter to cover a presidential trip.
“From a news perspective,” political editor Steven Ginsberg to an e-mail query, “this wasn’t a very tough call. On vacations like this one, access to the president is highly limited and news is rare. We are in a much better position to cover President Obama and his administration without going to Martha’s Vineyard for 10 days.”
Politico made a different call and sent White House correspondent Carrie Budoff Brown. Mark Landler has been writing from Edgartown for the New York Times. The TV networks and cable channels have festooned the New England haunt for the wealthy with satellite dishes for their correspondents.
Now those numbers have been nearly cut in half and the Web has changed how we get information. A friend asked why I write every month about the Post: “It doesn’t count anymore.” It certainly counts less, so this is the last Post Watch. Next month we begin Media Players, with a wider scope.
The Post explains its distress by saying it’s facing the same market forces that are affecting news organizations worldwide. That explains business challenges, but the paper’s journalism also has gone downhill.
Since coming to the Post from the Wall Street Journal three years ago, executive editor Marcus Brauchli, 50, has sapped the newsroom’s vitality, according to staffers, past and current. A diffident and shy man, he seems unable to rally the troops. His assistants, Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti, also have strained relations with staff. A Brauchli confidant recently asked staffers how he could “build back support.” One response: “He’d have to start from scratch.”
From the day Brauchli accepted the job and announced—while reading from three-by-five cards—that he was excited to become executive editor, he’s been physically and emotionally unavailable, Posties say. In the redesigned newsroom, he can get from his office to an elevator without encountering reporters.
A news organization runs on energy and loyalty. Executive editor Ben Bradlee got both; his successor, Len Downie, inspired the staff to do its best work. Many of the Post’s top reporters have left, among them Anthony Shadid, Bart Gellman, Robin Givhan, and Howard Kurtz. Each had offers and personal reasons, but none stayed because they wanted to work for Brauchli.
Brauchli’s damage to the Post has been self-inflicted—and poorly explained.
“There’s a sense in the newsroom he doesn’t know stories and doesn’t care,” says a writer. “Metro, Style, and Sports—he doesn’t care at all.” Posties say he favors the financial section.
Take the publishing side’s idea in 2009 to hold “salons” in which reporters would attend meetings sponsored by companies they might cover. Bad idea. Bradlee or Downie would have killed it; Brauchli was against the salons—but only after the plan became public. He wound up apologizing for his vacillation.
On Brauchli’s watch, typos have proliferated, sports coverage has become leaden, local Metro coverage has been starved. Brauchli has introduced a Web site that readers say is cluttered and hard to navigate.
To run Style, he tapped Ned Martel, a New York journalist who’d never edited at a daily. He paired Martel with veteran Post editor Lynn Medford to coedit what Brauchli called a chemistry experiment. It blew up in screaming matches. Medford moved to the Sunday sections; Martel alienated writers and finally stepped down to write—but not before he reportedly clashed with Pulitzer Prize–winning fashion writer Givhan, who left. Brauchli issued a memo saying how pleased he was that Martel would be writing. In truth, it was another Brauchli management disaster.
Brauchli’s decision to kill a first-person essay by reporter Jose Antonio Vargas was typical. Vargas pitched his tale of how he had been a successful journalist, including five years at the Post, but lived a lie as an illegal alien for much of his life. Brauchli invited the piece, editors worked on it for months, then Brauchli spiked it. The New York Times Magazine published it in June. Brauchli never explained his reasoning to his editors, staff, or readers.
What needs explanation is why he’s still in charge.
This article appears in the August 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.
Alexandra Petri has become the Post’s go-to writer for laughs. Photograph by Erik Uecke
When Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show, a nation genuflected—except for a 23-year-old writer for the Washington Post.
“There are two ways to love yourself, Oprah says,” Alexandra Petri wrote on her blog, ComPost. “Loving yourself, and loving Oprah, because Oprah is Just Like You, But Better.”
Compare Petri’s sendup with that of the Post’s Sally Quinn, who declared Winfrey to be “America’s high priestess.”
Quinn came off as fawning next to Petri, who wrote: “I do not mean this with any disrespect to Oprah. A friend of mine once meant disrespect to Oprah, and all his window treatments turned on him.”
Petri has been poking fun at the rich, famous, and political since editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt anointed her a year ago as his comic blogger and occasional editorialist. “If you want to understand Snooki or Weinergate,” he says, “she is the person to see.”
There are a handful of moves to report this week.
Stanley Crosley, former chief privacy officer for Eli Lilly & Company, has joined Drinker Biddle & Reath as of counsel on the pharmaceutical team.
Foley & Lardner has added Toni Hickey as senior counsel in its intellectual property department, from the US Patent and Trademark Office. Hickey was most recently deputy chief of staff to the director of the Patent and Trademark Office.
The National Association of Manufacturers has welcomed two new members to its government-relations team. Lauren Airey joined NAM from Republican Congressman Donald Manzullo’s office, where she was senior legislative assistant. Erik Glavich joined from the Public Consulting Group in Chicago, where he was a consultant.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has added two partners from King & Spalding. Christopher Keough and Stephanie Ann Webster both now belong to Akin Gump’s health-industry practice.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Mark Leibovich recently won a Pulitzer Prize. Leibovich won a National Magazine Award. We regret the error.
Talk about spin! The Washington Post is depicting the departure of Style section editor Ned Martel as a win for all.
News of Martel’s demotion broke Wednesday morning (reported earlier by Fishbowl DC) in gleeful emails by Style writers who have reviled his management style for the past two years. Actually, it seems, the scent of Martel’s demise started to fill the newsroom last week.
But in a memo Wednesday afternoon, Post editor Marcus Brauchli and deputy Liz Spayd were “pleased to announce that one of the newsroom’s great creative forces . . . will soon move to join our formidable political team in covering the 2012 presidential campaign.”
Read through the adjectives, and allow me to translate:
Brauchli and Spayd have been fielding complaints about Martel for months. He is widely blamed for the departure of Robin Givhan, the Post’s longtime fashion writer who won a Pulitzer but abandoned ship in December for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.