Way back in the days of Watergate, most newspaper-business watchers would have said that The Washington Post and The New York Times were neck-and-neck as the two top general-interest papers in the country.
Some people would have said, based on the Post’s astonishing scoop that eventually brought down President Richard Nixon, that the Post was the superior paper.
No more. Oh, no. In horse racing parlance, The Times has proved to be the equivalent of the great Secretariat, while The Post has been exposed as a sprinter that folds after three-quarters of a mile.
:: While The Times has had some employee buyouts, The Post is in its fifth round of buyouts since 2004.
:: Based on a flexible “pay wall,” The Times last year launched a well-thought-out campaign to increase online subscriptions. Since then, the paper has added more than 450,000 digital subscriptions.
:: The Post, on the other hand, “hasn’t jumped into the world of online subscriptions and has suffered for it,” The Motley Fool, a multimedia financial-services company, said in an online story Thursday.
:: In reporting its first-quarter results last week, The Post reported a 10 percent drop in weekday subscriptions between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, and a five percent drop on Sunday. “On the plus side,” said The Motley Fool, “newsprint costs dropped 11 percent because no one is buying the paper anymore.”
:: Between last Friday and yesterday, The Post Co.’s stock price fell 10.4 percent, while The Times Co.’s price rose 7.4 percent.
The Post is also showing signs of stumbling on the journalistic side.
Yesterday morning, The Post ran online a 5,500-word story by reporter Jason Horowitz about some of Mitt Romney’s high school escapades, including an incident when he and some friends held down a student they thought was gay and cut his hair off, while the student screamed for help.
Horowitz recounted another incident, based on accounts of students who witnessed the events, in which Romney shouted “atta girl” to a different student at the all-boys’ school. That student later declared that he was gay.
The story generated huge attention and comment on Twitter and other social media, and as of last night the story had drawn more than 5,000 comments under The Post’s online story.
And yet, The Post did not run the story in Thursday’s print edition, although it clearly was ready to go Wednesday night.
The Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for journalism located in St. Petersburg, FL, quoted Kevin Merida, the Post’s national editor, as saying that President Obama’s historic declaration on Wednesday that he favored same-sex marriage same-sex marriage was a factor in the decision to hold off on running the Romney story in print.
Poynter also quoted Merida as saying, “It’s also just a very long and involved tale, sensitive and complex, and it needed to be edited to our collective satisfaction.”
However, Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post got a slightly different explanation from Steven Ginsberg, the Post’s political editor.
“We’re mindful of the news going on this week, particularly yesterday,” Ginsberg told The Huffington Post. “We thought it was better not to have it in today’s paper.”
“The (Obama and Romney) stories aren’t really about the same thing,” Ginsberg added, “but the perception among some might have been that putting them together would have created an impression we didn’t want to create.”
Ginsberg did not say, as Merida did, that the story needed more editing.
All in all, print subscribers had good reason to be irritated, at the very least, that they didn’t get Horowitz’ story in the printed edition.
As Andrew Beaujon, who wrote The Poynter Institute, said:
“I can’t be the only Post subscriber wondering why I’m paying for the print edition of the Post when something this important flies onto my porch a day after the political world has chewed it over and reacted already.”
Horowitz’s story was scheduled to run in today’s printed edition of the Post.