Who Will Gather the News? Restructuring at the WaPo Newsroom

Leonard Downie, Jr., executive editor of the Washington Post, has distributed a memo to the newspaper’s editorial staff, which has been picked and up published by Editor & Publisher.

“Readership and economic challenges remain daunting,” Downey wrote. “We must produce high quality, compelling journalism and carry out our public service mission while adjusting our cost structure to shifting advertising revenues.”

Adjusting our cost structure. I like that. I should have used that line when I had to cut costs and lay off employees at Virginia Business magazine.

But it’s not just about cutting costs, Downie insisted. It’s all about making the newspaper better. On the cost-cutting side, the WaPo will shrink newsroom staff through attrition as low priority positions become vacant. He did not provide a specific number of positions to be attrited. On the making-the-newspaper-better side, staffers will be reassigned from general assignment positions to specific assignments and beats.

In form, our priorities include original reporting, scoops, analysis, investigations and criticism.

As opposed to what other priorities? Rewriting press releases? Fabricating news? Masquerading personal opinion as news coverage?

In content, they include politics, government accountability, economic policy and what our readers need to know about the world – plus local government, schools, transportation, public safety, development, immigrant communities, health care, sports, arts and entertainment.

Personally, I think the WaPo reporters covering Virginia state/local government are doing a reasonably good job. If I were in Downie’s office, I’d start by whacking the guys who write the editorials.

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8 responses to “Who Will Gather the News? Restructuring at the WaPo Newsroom”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    The Wash Post’s editorials are its strength. I read them as a needed anti-dote to the RTD’s rug-biting, foaming-at-the-mouth MacKenzie and its otherwise mindless opinions. You need to get out of Richmond more often.

  2. E M Risse Avatar

    Jim and TMT:

    I agree with much of what you both say but it is not the editorial perspective that is driving the news coverage.

    It is the advertising revenue. Complete stories about the issues all three of us want to see covered make advertisers mad and consumers uneasy.

    The bottom line is the bottom line.


  3. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    EMR – If advertising revenues were driving the Post’s reporting, the Paper would not be hammering development in Loudoun County.

  4. E M Risse Avatar


    I am not sure what you mean by “hammering development in Loudoun.”

    WaPo has been supporting development (or over-development) for 15 years in Loudoun by under-reporting the downsides of settlment pattern dysfucntion and giving the pro-growthers lots of ink. Also see the recent editorial suggesting that the recent rejections are just a pause and cautioning against stopping “growth.”

    Do you read the Loudoun Extra?

    Lots of ads. Loudoun with the high per capital income is an advertisers dream. Lots of cars, furniture, etc. not just houses — lots of house ads too.

    Your past comments suggest you would like to see new rooftops in Loudoun, not Fairfax and so you may not have been reading the coverage with care.


  5. Anonymous Avatar

    “Lots of cars, furniture, etc. not just houses — lots of house ads too.”

    Cars, yes. Furniture, no.

    I’ve been in a fair number of McMansions that are basically unfurnished…..hmmm….I wonder what that implies?

    All the more reason to advertise, I guess.

  6. E M Risse Avatar

    Annon 6:43

    You are right about the empty dining rooms, etc.

    That is not new. Same thing happened in the 70s, in the 80s and in the 90s with each housing boom.

    May be worse now.

    What major WaPo stockholders and publisher believe is that the cure is to build more to keep the economy growing. See our coulum “Bread and Circuses” at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com


  7. We are still going to have two million more people. They will have to go somewhere, and they will have to do something for a living. Whatever they do is going to require that they make a profit, or it won’t get done.

    That’s the bottom line.

    If we are faced with massive unemployment, then the government will increase spending to try to spin the economy back up. As it is, the main thing that has kept the economy running for the last five years has been housing construction – and the terrorism industry.

    I recently heard someone say that TSA stands for Thousands Standing Around. I’m not sure that is too far wrong.

    I recently visted a government office building where I had to get a badge to enter. The badge was then run through two scanners: one at the entrance and one at the elevators. In addition the badge was viewed by two securty “guards” one at the entrance and one at the elevator.

    With multiple entrances to the building and two elevator shafts, there are ten people working full time just to look at badges that have already been scanned.

    Then there are dogs sniffing VRE, and gas chromatographs in the Metro stations. Etc. ETc. ETc.

    How much of this is really necessary, and how much of it would otherwise be spent on welfare and unemployment benefits? Really, if they paid me half of what they are paying the guards to let me in the building, I could afford to stay home, and do something useful.

    If the economy doesn’t keep growing, it will die. Before long we will be wishing for the good old days.

    I recently met a new transplant to NOVA. He was from Pittsburgh. We talked about the city and what a nice job they had done cleaning it up. There are still no jobs and it is one of the least congested cities in the nation, which is why he is here, he pointed out.

    If there is not the money in Federal contracts to support the rents, then rents will fall. They will still be twice as high close in.

    The level of activity may fall, and it may fall dramatically, but the relative differences in the cost drivers won’t change.

    Cities will be much more expensive to maintain, and with insufficient revenue, they will decline faster.

    I agree with EMR that it is likely to be an unpretty picture, but I don’t see that denigrating profit or growing the economy is a very useful antidote.

    It is possible to get by with a lot less, and still be happy. You can go a long way with a vegetable garden and a few chickens, but Americans haven’t had much practice at it recently.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I read WaPo every day… as well as about 20 other papers… NYT, Wall Street J, RTD, etc but I get but one hard-copy paper – my local Free Lance-Star.

    So.. can I take a little POLL here about how many folks read the WaPo or RTD online?

    I think the fear is that as the business model for traditional hard-copy newsprint papers steadily erodes, that they’ll have to perhaps eventually downsize themselves out of existence.

    I don’t think this is true – but their advertising revenue will have to increasingly come from online ads – AND – the thing that is really going to impact them – is the “click” technology that tells the advertiser exactly how many folks actually got interested in their AD… as opposed to a paper being able to claim that some unknown percentage of their entire circulation… “view” the print advertising.

    So, they’re going to have to downsize according to how much ad revenue erosion there is.

    I don’t think competent, professional news reporters will fall out of favor. In fact, in a world where anyone can report on anything with absolutely no assurance that their report is factual and unbiased, I think there will be a continual demand for accurate and relatively un-biased reporting but I DO think that where there is perceived bias, it will affect “readership”.

    “Readership” has been redefined… it used to be within a geographic “ring” and the basis for articles was to a certain extent local relevancy.

    Now… WaPo and RTD and others are being thrown into the same Ocean with USA Today and Wall STreet Journal ONLINE.

    There will still be a thirst for “local” news though – that’s a niche that will be a “hook” for local and regional papers.

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