A lot of lurching: Gabriel Sherman on the Washington Post’s Demise

It took me a few days, but last night I finally got to Gabriel Sherman’s Post-Apocalypse, an autopsy of the Washington Post.) Andrew Beaujon notes that “Sherman’s Twitter feed has a lot of things that didn’t make it into the story, some of which are much, much better than what actually landed.”) Here are my takeaways:

In a new era for journalism, The Washington Post has yet to figure out what it wants to be. The result has been a lot of lurching–some of it (like salongate) embarrassing, much of it merely ineffective, but almost all of it suggesting a newspaper in disarray….

The success of Kaplan may have also provided a financial cushion that insulated the Post from making changes necessary to survive in a new climate

“Len wouldn’t do things they felt needed to be done,” says former Post political reporter Peter Baker, who left the paper for the Times in 2008. “A whole generation of younger editors were smothered by a leadership that was resistant to change.”

Many of the people I spoke with agreed that the decision to let [Harris and VandeHei] walk out the door [to Politico] ended up being a disaster for the Post. “What a mistake,” says Baker. “The most obvious indictment is the failure to foresee what opportunities were out there that John Harris and Jim had created.

Some in the newsroom felt the frenzied coverage of the White House party-crasher scandal was driven in part by the millions of hits the story generated. A week after the story broke, Style editor Ned Martel convened a meeting attended by 25 reporters and editors to coordinate coverage of the scandal. “If I were to call a similar meeting on Al Qaeda’s recruitment in the U.S., you know what I would get? I might get two people there,” says a senior print staffer. “You’d have trouble getting support on the Web to mobilize.”

And an indication that collaborations with nonprofits could bring unwanted complications:

In December, thePost printed a news piece on the national debt in partnership with a publication called The Fiscal Times–without disclosing that the organization is backed by financier Pete Peterson, a well-known deficit hawk


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