Back in the days of Watergate, the
Washington Post went toe to toe with the
New York Times—and won. As recently as a decade ago,
Post reporters and editors measured themselves against “brand X,” as Posties derided the
Manhattan-based daily. Since then the
Times has become the nation’s preeminent journalistic enterprise, and the
Post has faded.
If there was any doubt that the
Post is no longer in the same league as the
New York Times, media writer
David Carr put it to rest with his
of Post publisher
On Monday, Carr used last week’s sacking of executive editor
Marcus Brauchli and the appointment of former
Boston Globe editor
Martin Baron to observe of Weymouth: “Four years into her tenure at the top, she still seems to
be struggling to get a grasp on a huge job at a company whose journalism has at times
altered the course of a nation.”
And: “Many staff members worry that she is overseeing the decline of one of journalism’s
Carr, who covered the
Post when he edited DC’s
City Paper, points out the obvious but misplaces the blame for the
Post’s sad state of affairs. Weymouth is part of a deeper set of problems and poor decisions
that begin at the top.
Katharine Weymouth has been at the
Post’s helm since 2008, and she has to take responsibility for hiring Brauchli. He turned
out to be a lifeless leader. He failed to lead his newsroom troops through a demoralizing
series of buyouts. True, he gets credit for melding the
Post’s print and digital operations, but
Raju Narisetti, the chum he handpicked to reengineer the
Post’s web site, botched the job.
Brauchli and Weymouth clashed over budget cuts that fell on the newsroom. The staff,
once numbering 900, now stands at 600. But the strategy for cutting costs to balance
the books came from the Post Company board of directors. Revenues from advertising
and circulation were falling, and the board ordered Weymouth to reduce operating costs.
By contrast, the
New York Times applied a different strategy. Rather than simply cut costs and reduce staff, the
Times built its brand, maintained its robust reporting staff, and bolstered its journalism
by attracting some of the
Post’s top talent—from Mark Leibovich and Peter Baker to Jo Becker and Michael Shear,
to name a few.
Carr’s critique of Weymouth overlooks
Post president and general manager. Sources inside the
Post tell me Hills has been calling the shots on many of the decisions that have sapped
the newspaper’s strength.
Ultimately, it’s instructive to see Weymouth’s role at the
Washington Post as a family matter. Her great-grandfather, Eugene Meyer, bought the
Post. Her grandmother, Katharine Graham, became the iconic leader who piloted the paper
through Watergate, its greatest days. Katharine’s son Don—Weymouth’s uncle—ran the
Post for years and passed it on to her. He now chairs the Post Company board and oversees
The succession begs an essential question: Did Katharine Weymouth really want the
job? Unlike Kay and Don Graham, Weymouth was not steeped in the newspaper world. She
was raised in New York, by Don’s sister, Lally Weymouth, rather than in the political
town of DC. She was schooled to be a lawyer, not a journalist. She worked first in
Washington as an attorney before moving to the Post on the legal and business sides.
She never worked in the newsroom.
Weymouth, friends say, has always centered her life on
being a single mother of three
young children, rather than a newspaper publisher. In my August
of Weymouth, she allowed that she never thirsted to be
publisher of the Graham family
jewel. It seemed like a duty rather than a passion.
Don Graham had a passion for newspapering and now the digital side of journalism.
Ultimately, the fate of his family’s brand falls on his shoulders. It was Don Graham
who directed Post staffers to produce a product for and about Washington. Then he
watched as the newspaper gutted the staff that might have produced quality journalism
to fulfill that pledge.
So David Carr can write: “The
Post now finds itself sharing a destiny with struggling regional newspapers.”
Which leaves the
New York Times alone as the best national newspaper, where it seems to be surviving so far.