WaPo Happy, Two: Lalalalalala! I Can’t Hear You!

As a follow-up to this post, here is WaPo Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli’s approach to addressing the WaPo’s $143 million hemorrhage thus far this year.

Brauchli on whether he should have to explain his paper’s journalism to–among others–readers:

I don’t think it’s necessary for us to lay out all of the processes in the newspaper to make decisions,” he snapped. “Newspapers spend way too much time explaining themselves.” He went on: “Too many people call our newsroom. There are endless queries on our journalism these days. I think it’s better for us to focus on producing journalism than on our process.”

Brauchli on how–after ignoring those too many people calling the newsroom–the WaPo will determine what readers want:

Story lengths in the magazine were often too long, subjects were sometimes remote, and tenor wasn’t always consistent with what other editors and I believe our readers want in a Sunday magazine.

That ought to work out splendidly.

28 replies
  1. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    At the risk of antagonizing some who read and comment here, and not to excuse the WaPo, but I wonder whether some in the ‘media biz’ aren’t really in a kind of shell shock.

    Unfortunately, with things like the Plame outing, Abu Gharib, the Wall Street Meltdown, and Blackwater crimes that breed distrust, those charged with providing information are reaping much of the bitter animosity that should be laid at the doors of those who committed those crimes, but used ‘the media’ to cover them up.

    IMHO, ‘the media’ was played like a violin while Nero Bush watched Rome the US patrimony go up in flames. Unfortunately, it has too often felt as if ‘the media’ were standing by as the background choir.

    It’s a tragedy, IMHO. Because I do believe that information and media have a vital role in our culture and our society. And I believe that there are still some superb reporters (Scahill, Taibbi, not to mention bloggers), and new modes coming into existence.

    This guy sounds shell shocked.
    And although I have my issues with the WaPo, it certainly makes a ton of sense that if they’re getting barraged by ‘teabaggers’ and the minions who report to Rove or Scheunemann, then that is draining their energy for the work they really need to be doing.

    • behindthefall says:

      Except that that last paragraph (about lightening up the Sunday mag)sounds as if the WaPo eds have prety much decided to bail on educating their readers — maybe they’re not buying our paper any more because they want fatty snacks, not nutrition, so what the hell, give it to them.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Sorry, I’ve been commenting here too long already today.

        It looks to me as if they haven’t yet shifted their biz model fully; if they’re putting long articles on newsprint, that’s extremely expensive. And some readers will ONLY read it on print. But others will read it on Kindle or other screen-based technologies, where it really doesn’t matter whether it’s 800 words or 5,000 in terms of print costs.

        I guess that I’ll simply reiterate that I’ve seen glimpses of the human cost of what’s going on.

        One person that I know very well has been working with a group that advises newspapers and moves them online. As a result, over the past couple of years, I’ve heard stories of people at newspapers who had to go home and log on to their home computers to see and approve upgrades to their online newsites, because their papers didn’t have the money to invest in upgraded computers.

        My final comment, however, is that it appears that people who figure out how to do ‘new media’ right are going to be very important moving forward. I’d count the FDL group at the front of the pack, for quality of content, etc, etc.

        But for larger entities, the BBC and the British Guardian, which has a phenomenal DataBlog site, looks to me like the best model moving forward. I just sense that this WaPo guy needs a break; he’s not spotting the opportunities to build the biz, or so it appears to my eyes.

        Anyway, I’m blog-whoring, so must stop.

        • behindthefall says:

          No; go on. Good points. And there really is a problem of what you do as a news organization when the Volksverdummung (sp? dumbing down of the populace) has succeeded beyond even the beancounters wildest fantasies.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Quick, personal observation: a man who devoted his life to local newspapers in the area where I live is in hospice care at present. It may sound strange to those who read here, but at some levels, I think that this whole drainage of the news biz is — literally — killing some people who took great pride in reporting on their communities.

      The knowledge, the history, the expertise these people had is and was tremendously precious: they’re walking repositories of why things in their communities work, or don’t. They’re invaluable.

      Yet, because of finance rules that took root in the 1980s (under Reagan, then accelerated under Bush41), ‘the media’ became one more lucrative spreadsheet on someone’s Wall Street collection.

      I’m not as convinced that news people killed the news.
      I think that ‘finance’ and bean counters killed the news.

      But the human cost of this, of people who felt that their work and their talents and their focus on trying to build community through their reporting — that loss is something that as a society I don’t believe that we can afford to lose.

      If we don’t better support the people who provide quality information, and if we don’t get the ‘media’ out of the strangehold of ‘finance’, which loved ‘media’ until Craig’s List came along and sucked the revenues from advertising, we’re going to be in more trouble than we know.

      I have no solutions, but perhaps this morning, I have more compassion than others here.

      The day this man walks into the newsroom and no one is calling because no one gives a rat’s ass about the WaPo is the day that he should dread. It sounds like they need to talk to Microsoft or Adobe or some other software entity to set up some kind of news-biz ’support center’, because what they really need is to be collecting the information about those calls, analyzing it, synthesizing it, and identifying what people want and need — and then using that to build their biz model.

      One company that I recall did that exceptionally well: Amazon.

      This guy needs to change his paradigm from ‘the callers are sucking our resources’, to: ‘those calls are our resources, now how do we glean the info that we need to from those calls and keep them coming — while also identifying the ‘high maintenance’ jerks (like minions of Rove and Scheunemann) put those callers in a queue specially designed to manage (and track) that bullshit.’

      • foothillsmike says:

        The problem as I perceive it is with the management. They have to a great extent, overleveradged the business and attempted to extract dollars from the content to cover these expenses. Meanwhile, their income stream has declined due to loss of value. It is an industry in a downward spiral. THe resolution has to be up to the reporters to find their own way forward. If they have value they will survive. If they think there is value in stenography well that is to be determined.

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          They have to a great extent, overleveradged the business and attempted to extract dollars from the content to cover these expenses.

          Completely agree, and also agree with your other points.

          @7: if the whole nation were ‘dumbed down’, then FDL, DKos, HuffPo, and a whole host of other sites would not exist. Which is my source of optimism.

          Must. Stop. Blogwhoring…

      • Hugh says:

        I’m not as convinced that news people killed the news.
        I think that ‘finance’ and bean counters killed the news.

        It was of course both. As media became corporatized into larger and larger conglomerates, it lost touch with its original audience and became instead responsive to the needs and dictates of its new audience, its parent company which wanted economies of scale not local news coverage and which eschewed controversy and investigative reporting because these might offend the powers that be.

  2. brendanx says:

    Brauchli has a fair point. I read a mortifying article in the Post magazine a couple months ago about parents who have accidentally forgotten infants in car seats on summer days, and I’m afraid to pick the thing up again.

  3. scribe says:

    Just remember – that $143 million loss last year works out to WaPo losing $1.10 on every paper sold.

    You toss a buck (or whatever it costs now) on the pile at the newsstand, and WaPo tosses in a buck ten. And that’s after advertisers pay whatever they pay. Given what (little) I know about the newspaper industry, thumbnail guesstimate that ads pay $3 or $4 for every $1 subscribers pay. So, you can figure it costs a good 5 bucks to put a copy of the paper in your hands.

    If money talks, well, then the ownership of the WaPo and the advertisers of the are getting all the calls on what to put in, above and beyond the normal, because they are paying for the paper you read (or used to read). OF course, the “used to read” part is what’s killing them – the disconnect between what the advertisers and ownership want to see (and the propaganda lines they want to push) is what’s driving subscribers away in droves. Why should I, or anyone, pay money to an organization that gets pissed when I call the newsroom – to tip on a story, to complain about bias or slant, to praise, or to condemn? They don’t want to listen to their subscribers and readers, so the subscribers and readers leave.

    Or, as the fall of Communism proved – command economies don’t work because people want what they want, and you can only forcefeed them something they don’t want or find unpalatable for so long. The day comes when they say “Basta” (”enough”), and toss you out with the trash. That day came for papers like WaPo about the same time as the blogs arrived.

    The WaPo is an outfit in a death-spiral, but can’t get their head around that fact yet.

  4. Rayne says:

    Need to keep two things in mind:

    – The cost to print content is a big part of expenses; at a buck lost per print copy, it was time to look at different delivery methods. As a local paper in DC, it had an audience which would have been more amenable to a digital delivery system, but WaPo is simply incapable of thinking like a internet-based company, only a brick-and-mortar one.

    – As Michael Moore so aptly pointed out, you don’t hear about newspaper failures in Europe – and yes, the papers there compete with the internet. It’s the business model which failed. Newspapers have for decades treated commercial retail advertisers like customers instead of their readers; once that dynamic changed, they lost readers. (Note my distinction about commercial retail: classified moved to the ‘net because the paper increasingly wasn’t the best fit for them.)

    I only get the local Sunday paper now, and it’s literally nothing more than a wrapper for a bundle of advertising fliers.

    • scribe says:

      The Euro papers don’t just compete on and with the internet.

      They get US readers who go to them for real journalism. The media folder in my internet favorites list currently has 4 Euro papers that I look at from time to time – and I get more out of them than I do out of the NYT or the WaPo.

      For starters, with the Euro papers I don’t have to deal with the NYT and its subscription wall and I don’t have to deal with registering and popup ads like on the WaPo. (ok, on Bild.de I do have to deal with popups…. but still) I go to them, they’re free, and they are not hidden behind a subscription wall.

      And they actually do good journalism.

  5. milly says:

    Michael Moore recently had some interesting things to say about print news.

    They count on advertisement as their primary form of revenue now.

    European and Japanese newspapers depend on circulation as their primary form .

    Newspapers have endorsed the republicans like 15 out of the last 17 presidential races. They would like to do away with the Dept. of Education. ….hate to spend any money on it….so many illiterates now. Serves them right. Newspapers that is. I am paraphrasing this last paragraph.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      My information (true of the papers that I know about) is correct on the topic of ‘where does the money come from’? The money came from ads, not subscriptions; the subscriptions were underwritten by ads. That doesn’t necessarily mean that papers don’t care about subscribers (!).

      And at least in my region (W Wa), newspapers have very good ‘paper in the classroom’ programs to try and get newspapers into classrooms for part of social studies, or other related curriculum. However, I have no idea how well those programs are functioning at this point.

      Smaller papers are trying really valiantly to keep people employed in their communities, to keep people updated about current local events.

      There are newspaper publishers who are not grandiose, they are trying to keep ‘family wage’ jobs in their communities and the few that I’m acquainted with are devoted to their communities — these are the people who show up at auctions, donate whatever they can, and do believe that newspapers have a key role in ‘building community’ (which, FWIW, is precisely what the best blogs also do).

      However, like scribe, my own bookmarks include European (and occasionally East Asian) papers.

      I think the WaPo is confused about its purpose, its biz model, its customers (the real ones), and what it wants to be 10 years out. But I don’t think that every valiant small paper publisher should be smeared by that brush.

      The fact remains: there is some crackerjack reporting.
      Just go look at McClatchey’s DC team of reporters, and how they got it right all along.
      Culturally and institutionally, why didn’t that level of reporting occur (except for Dana Priest) at the WaPo?

  6. oldtree says:

    He knows who the competition is now for the WaPoo. USA Today, National Enquirer and the Sun. He knows that the Poo can’t win against these other publishers, so he has to speak to his audience. 10th graders.

  7. Hugh says:

    As for Brauchli, he could not organize a two car parade. We have seen this all before when the WaPo parent company reformatted NewsWeek. They knew going in that they were going to lose readership and they didn’t care. They wanted to create a magazine of and for the Beltway.

    We will never know if Bill Keller at the NYT or Marcus Brauchli at the WaPo by turning out real journalism could have forged papers that would have withstood the technological changes brought about by blogs and the internet. We only know they didn’t try. They went for sycophantic, Establishment cheerleading schlock and as we have seen that is not a viable business model.

    • x174 says:

      We will never know if Bill Keller at the NYT or Marcus Brauchli at the WaPo by turning out real journalism could have forged papers that would have withstood the technological changes brought about by blogs and the internet. We only know they didn’t try. They went for sycophantic, Establishment cheerleading schlock and as we have seen that is not a viable business model.

      They went for sycophantic, Establishment cheerleading schlock

      Not completely sure of the dynamics that led to the Schlock Model of American Journalism but i would agree with Hugh that there was a significant loss of journalistic integrity during the information gangsterism that prevailed during George “the incurious” Bush’s reign.

  8. fatster says:

    O/T Civil liberties alert. It’s now official.

    Police to get access to classified military intelligence

Published: September 16, 2009 
Updated 2 hours ago

”In a move raising eyebrows among civil liberties advocates, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it would give so-called local and state “fusion centers” access to classified military intelligence in Pentagon databases.”


  9. fatster says:

    O/T (Old Topic). The piling on begins. Yay!

    Another lawsuit targets founder of Blackwater
    By Bill Sizemore
    The Virginian-Pilot
    © September 16, 2009

    “Yet another civil lawsuit accuses Blackwater guards of driving through the streets of Baghdad randomly shooting innocent Iraqis.

    “The latest case accuses Blackwater founder Erik Prince of personally directing murders from a 24-hour remote monitoring “war room” at the private military company’s Moyock, N.C., headquarters.”


    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:


      Oh. My. God.

      Wow, did we just see the corner of the curtain fly up a bit, or what?
      So Whitehouse was not joking when he said ‘the truth’ was going to be ugly…

      personally directing murders from a 24-hour remote monitoring “war room” at the private military company’s Moyock, N.C., headquarters.”

      The mind reels…

      • fatster says:

        Here we are reading about this stuff–as we have been doing for quite some time now as it’s slowly dripped out and EW and a few others contributed their energy, effort and courage to publicize it– our stomachs in an uproar, our hearts hurting and our heads pounding. And then we sit back and realize that those in charge made all this happen in a very deliberate way, and yet there’s so much reluctance to undertake official, thorough investigation of it and to follow through on those investigations. That’s the true horror of it, to me.

  10. Bluetoe2 says:

    Yesterday Michael Moore made an interesting comparison of European newspapers with those in the U.S.. In Europe newspapers primary source of revenue is the readers. In the U.S. it’s advertisers. If the newspapers in Europe do not provide the news to their readers they stop reading and revenues fall. In the U.S. newspapers primary concern are the advertisers, and to insure the bottom line reporting on a variety of fronts (world, politics, police beat etc) are cut thereby making them less appealing to the “public”. Investigative journalism has been all but killed by this model. And they wonder why newspapers in the U.S. are dying. One can’t help but wonder that if Watergate had occurred today if it would have ever been “exposed?”

  11. Weffie says:

    Brauchli sounds like the professor who says, “Working at this college would be awesome if it weren’t for those damn students.”

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