How the Washington Post tripped over the Trump trap (and the New York Times did not)
I'm a lifetime Post subscriber and have been at my wits end with it for a few years, so would love to see a major shake-up, but, I agree, making changes based on how many Friday meetings there are is .... not inspiring. On the WFH thing, though, I DO think that the fact so many Post reporters have not come back to the office is likely reflected in the WAY they write about, for example, COVID or cultural trends. The tone reflects a highly neurotic, anxious personality whose views are extrapolated to represent the world at large. Inaccurately.
I was one of the people who subscribed to both publications in the Trump years and have since unsubscribed from both. There were a lot of reasons for that. The strident tone was a big one -- I don't like being preached at, even when I agree -- but another big one was news fatigue and just feeling very done with the "everything is CRISIS, everything now is the VERY WORST" mode of journalism. I don't like hysteria, and having read a fair bit of history, I don't feel like the times we're living in come anywhere close to the Very Worst.
(Personally, I'd nominate the mid 14th century.)
One thing that really bugs me about the NYT is that the tone & scope of the their foreign-affairs coverage, except when it comes to major crises like the Ukraine war.
If you read the Times, you will not get a reliable picture of what is going on in the politics of any major European country, or even Mexico or Canada. If you read the Economist, you will. The Economist is at least as slanted as the Times, but they try to inform you about the foreign country. The Times does quaint human interest stories and points to controversies abroad which resemble American culture war battles. (Or controversies which they make resemble our culture-war battles). Of course that is probably what their readers want.
This article jives well with the news that Dave Weigel is jumping ship. He puts out a unique and very interesting product and the way they treated him with that suspension was absurd. The post needs to realize that it's business is good media content and not the kind that comes from staff disputes.
The WSJ reporting is so exceptional. My dad is not a business person (retired Federal bureaucrat) but he found it to be one of the most reliable sources of news in the last five years, in particular about the early stages of Covid. The NYT shift left does nothing for him (he used to read David Brooks, but no one else there), and he doesn’t care about the side businesses. He’s thinks the WSJ opinion section is obviously noxious, but he doesn’t see it as representative of anything else they do.
Enjoyed this piece! You didn’t even mention sports, which the Times clearly sees as an additional “we’re more than our political slant” vertical with the purchase of The Athletic.
I am 100% in agreement with Josh's point that poorly run organizations are really bad at addressing poor performers. Managing employees effectively is difficult, and companies - like people - are drawn to the path of least resistance. So when a company is flying high they just ignore the need to manage people. And then when the organization runs into headwinds, they suddenly "realize" that they have employees with performance issues. It's not rocket science that dealing with poor performers all along would have prevented some of the current trouble.
And the fact that the head of WaPo thought the best way to identify performance issues was to look at meeting schedules is bizarre. If the top leadership is that clueless about assessing and managing performance, no wonder they have a bunch of poor performers still working there.
Personally I cancelled my subscription to the Post after this article:
No way I could live with myself supporting such awful behavior from powerful journalists against a nobody for a single mistake the nobody regrets and apologized for.
It almost seems like it’s the old Roman decimation strategy, off every tenth man to get the others in line because things really have gotten that out of control. Seems like they are frustrated trying to manage a newsroom full of undisciplined children and don’t know what to do other than fire some people. This might be step 1 just to get everyone still there to actually address the organizations needs.
I have always subscribed to the Times and my local paper and when the Post was actively trading Trump scoops with the Times after the 2016 election we added a digital subscription to the Post. I read more content in the Times but I am also annoyed by it more as well. I don’t read any of the Post opinion content other than the humorous ones by Alexandra Petri who is sometimes funny. I think Date Lab is a cute idea and it has the appeal of the real estate content in the Times. I consult NYT cooking all the time, play Wordle and Spelling Bee daily, and rely embarrassingly heavily on Wirecutter reviews so it’s true that I would absolutely drop the Post before the Times but I want it to succeed because the smugness of the Times continues to be off putting.
I generally agree with you, and especially agree that the Post seems poorly managed. I guess I would choose the Times if I could only have one subscription because of all the features you describe.
However, I think all three of these papers have dealt poorly with Trump in different ways, and none of them are communicating in a way that truly serves us well at this precarious time. I mean, you've seen the New York Times Pitch Bot, right?
One GREAT thing WaPo has is the best weather column in the country (if not the world), the Capital Weather Gang. This basically proves your point, though, because the CWG started as a private blog that the Post bought years ago. And the Post has Petri Dishes.
Could WaPo really buy America's Test Kitchen? I've gotten so used to it being a PBS show (one of my favorite, by the way) that it would seem weird to me to see it as part of a for-profit enterprise.
That said, I have no knowledge of ATK's business model, and almost no knowledge of "business models" in general.
The VS audience must skew private sector -- I would never unsubscribe from WaPo regardless of quality because it is free for anyone with a .gov email address. If anyone in government wasn't aware of this, enjoy the free subscription! The obvious downside is that you can't credibly do a performative "I'm cancelling my subscription over this!" whenever they publish something you don't like.
The “Democracy Dies in Darkness” header was eye-roll inducing from the start, especially considering the ownership.
I used to subscribe to the digital version of the NY Times but dropped it in favor of a subscription to the Washington Post. I did this post-Trump, or at least after the Trump administration, because will we ever really be post-Trump in this country? I read these national "papers" primarily for political news, so the superiority of food sections, photography, etc of one over the other doesn't matter to me. For business news, I already subscribe to the weekly business journal in my city. I made the switch mainly for cost reasons because I also have paid subscriptions to a lot of newsletters, including this one. I guess I'm one of the #resistance because I don't mind the "democracy dies in darkness" tagline. At the same time, I think they could drop it because our democracy is currently dying right out in the light of day.
In addition to not being available for purchase, anyone who is in charge of acquisitions and thinks buying The Guardian is a good idea should not only be fired immediately, but also tarred and feathered to the maximum extent allowed under the National Labor Relations Act.