News & Politics

Unrest at the Washington Post: Where’s Courtland Milloy?

After 23 years, Courtland Milloy’s column has disappeared from the lead Metro page of the Washington Post. He last wrote on November 30.

An announcement on December 11 read: “Courtland Milloy is away. His column will resume when he returns.”

Robert McCartney, Post assistant managing editor for Metro, tells The Washingtonian: “Courtland is taking off some time, partly for family reasons, but the plan is for the column to resume by the end of this month.”

But word among editors and reporters close to Milloy is that he may have written his last Post column.

They say he was exhausted and ready to move on after writing a weekly column since 1983. For years he had been talking about changing course, but the redesign of the Metro section, which dislodged columns from the left-hand rail of the section’s front page, pushed Milloy over the edge.

Milloy could not be reached for comment, but in a recent interview with Washington City Paper’s Erik Wemple he said: “I’ve done it a while, and I think it’s time to do something different, a different kind of writing. I don’t do farewell. I am not farewelling.”

Milloy’s unexpected absence leaves readers at a loss. And his questionable status is another sign of instability within the Post’s Metro section.

Reporters still don’t understand why city editor Gabriel Escobar abruptly walked off the job last month. A well-liked journalist who had worked for the Post as an editor and foreign and Metro correspondent since 1990, he left after getting passed over for the top Metro job and again for a post at the Sunday magazine. Escobar has signed on with the Pew Hispanic Center and not been replaced.

Meanwhile, “the rail” has become a source of derision among the Metro staff. The space along the Metro front page’s left side where readers used to find columns by Milloy, Marc Fisher, and Donna Britt now features an index of stories and obits of prominent people.

The valuable property at the top of the rail is slugged “You Should Know.” Friday it featured a photo of a Girl Scout cookie with news that cookie hawkers were about to hit the streets.

“A cookie in a spot where our Metro columnists used to write,” muses one reporter.

The columns by Fisher two or three times a week and Britt on Fridays now float above or below the fold for a few hundred words, then jump to an inside page. Milloy told people he was offended by the placement and the need to jump.

Milloy often wrote about subjects of interest to the region’s African-American readers. He would range from touching accounts of local life to the failings of the DC government, from trips down memory lane to his home in Louisiana.

In recent months he had been looking for other writing assignments inside the Post, according to friends. One option was to join a team of writers doing longer takes on regional matters.

If Milloy has written his last column, the Post will have lost a consistent voice for parts of the Washington community that might go unreported on without his experience, contacts, and fearlessness.