Carr: Weymouth is the problem at Washington Post

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Last week’s change in editorial leadership at The Washington Post was “mishandled from the start,” David Carr writes. Publisher Katharine Weymouth, who engineered the change, “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,” Carr says.

Carr lists what he sees as Weymouth’s missteps: getting off on the wrong foot with outgoing Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, telling people she wanted to replace him months before doing so and then insisting the decision was his:

Once the change was made official, Ms. Weymouth made another mistake; she insisted in interviews that the decision was Mr. Brauchli’s, when most people knew better. Mr. Brauchli declined to comment, but his wife, Maggie Farley, left a large breadcrumb to follow when she asked in a now deleted Facebook post how had “the Washington Post of Watergate fame become the place where you can’t speak truth to power?”

The Post’s strategy is just as muddled as when Weymouth arrived, Carr writes. Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton writes Brauchli “began to mutate the newsroom’s print DNA into something new.”

The key point for The Post, for newcomer Baron and for the newsroom to remember at this difficult time is that the mission of this paper, even amid all the technological and financial challenges, is larger than any individual. That mission must be preserved.

But what exactly is that mission? Weymouth told me her original goal for the Post being “for, and about Washington” has an expansive meaning: “stories for the true local community,” she said as well as for the paper’s national readership. The paper’s local staff felt slighted till Brauchli’s last year, Pexton writes.

When The Manassas News & Messenger, a small suburban newspaper near D.C., announced plans to close last week its ownership cited competition from other local news sources as a key condition, but in an article about the decision, the Post doesn’t sound particularly interested in making a play for the doomed paper’s readership: “it’s unclear whether who, if anyone, will be able to provide the prime forum for a community of more than 400,000 that the hometown newspaper has been serving since 1869,” Jeremy Borden writes. (Post Northern Virginia reporter Tom Jackman also mourned the loss of the News & Messenger’s website.)

Ken Doctor says the Post’s “regional strategy, as now in place, can’t pay the bills of a national operation.” Even Tina Brown, whose own formerly Washington Post Co.-owned publication will abandon print next year, gives the paper a kick for caring about the region it covers: “I think their whole decision to be a local paper was not the right decision,” she told Michael Kinsley in a rangy interview.

I mean, I think that they destroyed their influence and brand by becoming so local. They had some of the world’s best writers on that paper. But they’ve somehow shrunk—the more local they’ve become, the more they’ve shrunk their whole footprint.

The footprint of the Post Co.-owned Slate is increasing — it had a record 10 million unique visitors in October, the publication reported in a press release Monday morning. Business revenue “is ahead 28 percent this year through October,” Lucia Moses reports. “This is a conscious effort to say, ‘This is not for an elite,’ ” Slate Group chairman Jacob Weisberg told Moses.

Correction: This post originally referred to Weisberg as Slate’s editor.

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  • buckguy

    The Post is hardly a “local paper”. they have a long tradition of employing local reporters who clearly know nothing about the DC area or even its recent history. the paper is full obvious bloat near the top—an oversized, largely redundant waxworks of op-ed writers, office space claimed by people who’ve been off the masthead for years, oddities like Charles Lane who seems to have no portfolio but writes ill-informed columns regardless. The paper’s syndication stream will probably vaporize as dead tree papers close or go on line and that would mean the end of people like Shales (who’s over the hill) and much of the op-ed page.the paper has made abortive moves into service areas like health & science and instead needs to focus on its core business and potential strengths. The laughable business and sports sections need serious writing and the downgraded federal page needs people who understand the federal government and federal workers’ issues. Weymouth clearly has no idea how a successful paper should be run and the crippling of good regional papers by buyouts or profit inflating measures doesn’t help.