Get out the bottle rockets and cherry bombs; a formerly great newspaper is mounting a big comeback.
With all the grim news about the newspaper industry, it’s great to hear something positive, and David Carr of The New York Times gave credit where credit was due in his most recent “Media Equation” column.
The paper he singled out was none other than The Washington Post, which took journalism to a new plateau when it broke and put a stranglehold on the Watergate story in the 1970s.
During the last 10 to 15 years, however, with the proliferation of free, online content, The Post drifted down to yawning status, even as its once-biggest competitor, The Times, stamped itself as a genuine national newspaper, along with the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Recently, though, The Post has mounted a major comeback. A major scoop was the story of how deeply the White House fence jumper was able to penetrate the White House, after the Secret Service had issued a statement making it sound like he was apprehended just inside the door.
In retrospect, The Post’s turnaround can be tied to its expose in 2013 about the longer-than-understood reach of the National Security Agency. Based on information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, The Post laid bare for the public the existence of several global surveillance programs that further shattered Americans’ sense of diminishing personal privacy.
Then, a little over a year ago, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, bought The Post for $250 million and took it private. That move prompted speculation about what direction Bezos might take The Post.
At the time, though, Bezos, who is 50, gave a strong indication that the newspaper would not stray far from its longtime course of striving to be one of the nation’s foremost newspapers.
“…the key thing I hope people will take away from this (ownership change),” Bezos said, is that the values of The Post do not need changing. The duty of the paper is to the readers, not the owners.”
This week, Carr summarized what Bezos has done to turn things around:
“Did Mr. Bezos have some digital lightning in a bottle that altered the math of modern journalism? Far from it, but his willingness to finance hiring new employees — over 100 so far this year — has created an atmosphere of confidence and financial stability.”
In other words, Carr said, Bezos “has financed excellence and stayed out of the way.”
(Editor’s note here: Are you paying attention, Kansas City Star? The Post improved dramatically with an infusion of money and new talent, not by cutting staff and spending less.)
In that atmosphere of stability, the quality of the journalism has improved with Terrance Gore-like speed.
Another factor in The Post’s comeback, Carr said, was the 2013 hiring of editor Martin Baron, who had established himself as a strong leader at several other papers he worked at earlier.
In Carr’s story, Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, credited Baron with cultivating an enthusiastic atmosphere in The Post’s newsroom. “Marty is a very good newsman,” Rosenstiel said, “a no-nonsense, really bright guy who believes in the power of news, and that is highly contagious in a newsroom. Momentum matters a lot in a news organization.”
Amen, brother. There are so many newsrooms now — including The Star’s — where the employees are running scared because ownership has not been willing or able to invest in their newsrooms to insure aggressive pursuit of the news.
As a journalist (oh, yeah, JimmyC still has his press pass; it’s just homemade now), I am thrilled to see that The Post is on the rebound.
And on a personal note, it’s gratifying to know that two former former KC Star reporters, Tom Jackman and Joe Stephens, are with a paper that is headed in the right direction. Jackman is one of several reporters who covers Virginia for The Post, and Stephens is an enterprise/investigative reporter. Currently, Stephens divides his time between writing for The Post and teaching journalism at Princeton.