Little News on the “Washington Post’s” Front Page

Judging from Sunday’s edition, new front-page editor Barbara Vobejda has her work cut out for her.

By: Harry Jaffe

Veteran Washington Post reporter and editor Barbara Vobejda—a respected 25-year veteran—will soon became responsible for the newspaper’s front page. She has her work cut out for her, judging from Sunday’s offering.

Of the four front-page articles, there was no news and little surprise. Not one story came close to the “holy shit!” journalism that legendary editor Ben Bradlee pushed his troops to publish.

Less than a month away from a presidential election, there was no mention of the campaign.

The Post lead its Sunday spread with the first in a series about personal wealth of congressmen and senators. Among the “revelations” we read:

The Post said it analyzed “thousands of financial disclosure forms and public records” to determine that the 535 members of Congress are like the rest of us. Many inherited money! Republicans used to be worth more, but Democrats are catching up! In some cases, their wives work! Perhaps a smoking gun or a surprising fact will emerge in future articles, but this first installment, with its confusing graphic, fell flat.

Eli Saslow is a gifted writer. His dispatches from the campaign trail and portraits of Americans in dire straits are often well-crafted and insightful. But does a long feature about a struggling pool salesman belong on the front page? Is anyone surprised that suburbanites are cutting back on pools in the midst of a recession?

Barry Svrluga’s profile of Nationals manager Davey Johnson was both informative and intimate. It actually did belong on the Sunday front, with the Nats’ first playoff game coming up. But it could have used a hard news article above the fold to balance the sports feature.

The fourth front-pager, about Salafist Islamic radicals emerging in Egypt and elsewhere, was interesting but hardly groundbreaking. News that a Salafist has been accused of taking part in the killing of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Libya last month was buried ten paragraphs into the piece.

The Post’s Sunday circulation numbers, which at one point topped 1 million, have been dropping for the past decade. In May, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported the number at 719,301.

Many forces come to play in the drop in newspaper readership in cities coast to coast. Digital media has cut into readers and profits. But journalism and story choice matter. When the Post starts presenting a crisp array of front page articles that readers cannot resist, they might begin to return.