Frederick, Md.: Vandls have broken windows and doors at Linganore High School for the second time in just over a week. Estimates of damage to the school check in at around $9,000.
The broken glass was a big story this week in the Frederick News-Post. But don’t be surprised if you find a blurb about the cleanup in this Sunday’s Washington Post.
Starting Oct. 6, the Post will pad each of its Sunday Metro sections with two additional pages of news, and much of the bulge will come from the Washington area’s exurbs, an area stretching from Frederick to Fredericksburg, Va. A new monthly Sunday religion page is also part of the package. “Our publishers have been extremely supportive of local news,” says Metro editor Jo-Ann Armao. “We’ve shown over the last six years that we will dedicate resources and space to local news.” The paper is hiring two new reporters plus some editorial aides to fill the expanded news hole.
The move is timed to be the first punch in a backyard brawl: The Post is looking to pre-empt the News-Post, which is launching a Sunday edition Oct. 13. News-Post officials aren’t exactly quaking at the threat from their regional rival. “The bottom line is that even all the years when we haven’t had a Sunday edition, the strength of the [Post and the Baltimore Sun] is very low. By going Sunday, we are taking a very proactive approach to the marketplace,” says Denise Brady, group advertising manager for the News-Post.
Ed Jones, editor of Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star, scoffs at the Post’s outreach. “I am not concerned. That’s not a word that would apply to me right now,” says Jones. In both Stafford County, Va., and Frederick County, Md., the Post has a mere 11 percent weekday market penetration, as opposed to 44 percent and 51 percent, respectively, for the local papers, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Posties love to compare their paper to the New York Times, invoking the Post’s Watergate coverage and its annual haul of Pulitzer Prizes. Yet despite its national image and the sweeping mission proclamations of Executive Editor Leonard Downie, the Post still makes its money as a regional newspaper. Hence the appetite for a few extra penetration points in the boonies.
The Post has lost 43,000 Sunday subscriptions in the past five years, in a trend that has victimized other newspapers around the country, according to newspaper-industry analyst John Morton. In the face of the downturn, the paper is trying to round up more subscribers on the edges of its local core. That means District readers will know more than ever about bottlenecks on upper I-270 and development schemes on the banks of the Rappahannock.
With a shell of a magazine and a dearth of readable features, the Post already sends its 1 million Sunday subscribers trekking across a newsprint desert. The news from the outer reaches should fit right in with the existing loads of spot news, policy analysis, opinion pieces, and intermittent investigative features that land, unread, in the recycling bin.
Post Managing Editor Steve Coll is promising more bounce in the Sunday edition. “The [Metro expansion] is by no means the only initiative that we have under way for the Sunday paper,” says Coll. When pressed for details, he adds, “There’s a lot going on. I’m hoping to be able to describe something later in the fall.”
Coll and Deputy Managing Editor Milton Coleman dismiss the notion that expanded Metro coverage will sap energy and resources from other sections of the paper. “It has never come down to that,” says Coleman. “[The publisher] has never said that the newsroom is going to have to choose between the foreign desk and slots on the national desk and local coverage.”
Regional expansion, instead, is supposed to pay for itself. Boosting penetration in the outlying ‘burbs appeals to the chain stores that drive ad revenues these days. “Most local retail outlets are owned by national chains,” says Morton. “If you go to almost any town, most of the stores are the same ones you see in Washington.”
Commercial sameness leaves small papers with an ever-shrinking base of loyal local advertisers—with the march of Ruby Tuesday, Home Depot, et al., there are only so many mom-and-pop restaurants and retailers left in Frederick and Fredericksburg. And as regional papers like the Post pick up more subs in the exurbs, the chains have less incentive to do business with the likes of the News-Post and the Free Lance-Star.
Coll views invading the turf of the small papers as a matter of survival. “If you rationalize falling to second or third place in a particular jurisdiction on the grounds that you’re strong elsewhere, you can find yourself cut way too thin so that you lose your position as a strong and competitive newspaper,” he says.
In an Aug. 29 piece, the online magazine Salon slapped former Enron executive and current Secretary of the Army Thomas White with a hefty charge. The story, by freelancer Jason Leopold, said that White, during his Enron years, assisted in hiding the corporate losses that eventually doomed the energy giant.
The story even supplied a smoking gun. When told about a monthly loss of $3 million in his Enron division, White responded with the following e-mail, according to Leopold: “Close a bigger deal to hide the loss.”
Great scoop, if only it were true. This week, Salon pulled the entire story—”Tom White played key role in covering up Enron losses”—from its Web site over concerns about the authenticity of the killer e-mail. Oh, and one other thing: Leopold had lifted several paragraphs from a Financial Times story to move the narrative along. “[T]his sort of plagiarism is a serious breach of journalistic trust, and caused us to go back over every detail and aspect of the original article,” said an editor’s note.
Too bad Salon’s review didn’t happen a few weeks sooner—or at least before the Sept. 17 column of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Ever the crusader against corporate shenanigans, Krugman piggybacked on Leopold’s “reporting”: “Mr. Leopold reported his findings in the online magazine Salon, and has graciously shared his evidence with me. It’s quite damning.”
Krugman also quoted from the e-mail, but the wording was a bit different from Salon’s rendering: “Close a bigger deal. Hide the loss before the 1Q.” Salon Managing Editor Scott Rosenberg said the discrepancy in quotes from Leopold’s story and Krugman’s constitutes “one small facet of the problem.”
Krugman was traveling abroad and unavailable for comment. Times spokesperson Kathy Park, however, says the columnist “plans to address this matter in his column on Friday.”
Leopold did not respond to several calls. However, he did write, on www.andrewsullivan.com, that Salon “caved in to others in the media who were questioning the authenticity of the email. They should be ashamed. I assume the fact that Salon is in financial straits is the reason they hung me out to dry.”
With that comment, Leopold appears to be hanging himself out to dry. White is not threatening legal action or any other counterattack that would affect the magazine’s bottom line, according to White’s spokesperson and Rosenberg. “I mean, if we had a billion dollars in the bank or if we were going bankrupt tomorrow, what bearing could that have on this?” asks Rosenberg.
In his online letter, Leopold also offered to share his documents with anyone who might request them. White’s people have taken him up on the offer but have yet to get any documents out of the reporter. White spokesperson Charles Krohn says Leopold promised to call him earlier this week. “I have heard nothing since,” says Krohn.
Third and Inches
The Post can’t decide how tall Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is.
In a Sept. 15 Washington Post Magazine profile, writer Peter Perl placed the mogul’s altitude at “almost 5 foot 9.” A few days later, Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon said Snyder was 5-foot-7 in an online chat with readers.
Redskins spokesperson Karl Swanson says his boss rises as high as 5-foot-10—the average height for non-Hispanic white males in their 30s, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet some media accounts describe him as 5-foot-6 or shorter, according to Perl’s piece.
That’s a discrepancy of four or five inches, or, in the NFL, the difference between a first- and third-round draft pick.
The public record on Snyder’s size is murky. In one Post photograph, Snyder is seen conferring with Redskins cornerback Darrell Green. The owner appears an inch or so shorter than Green, who is listed in the current Redskins roster as 5-foot-9; that photo would place Snyder around 5-foot-8. But in the team’s 1997 media guide, Green is listed as 5-foot-8, which raises the prospect that Snyder is indeed really short—shorter than 85 percent of men his age, according to CDC numbers.
Snyder’s height stands as a matter of public interest because of the media’s thirst for Hollywood plot lines. In his three years atop the Redskins, Snyder has come under fire for his megalomaniacal ways: He fires his coaches when things go wrong on the field and insists on squeezing every last cent of revenue out of his team’s fans. It’s always more fun to portray such a character as a pipsqueak suffering from a Napoleon complex.
After a charity event at Anacostia High School last week, Snyder claimed to be 5-foot-9.
In its current issue, the InTowner features a story on a “mysterious” Newseum display that recently appeared on Pennsylvania Avenue. The article is eye-catching less for what it says than for how it says it. Here’s the lead sentence:
“Washington’s summer doldrums were constantly enlivened this past August with the sudden and startling appearance on both ordinary and stately sidewalks throughout the city of everything from a weeping and shackled circus elephant at Dupont Circle—compliments of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who successfully sued the DC Arts and Humanities Commission over its exclusion from the Commission’s party animals program of ready-made art animals, to Republican elephants and Democratic donkeys (the DC Statehood/Green party sued as well), to the construction of a large display panel structure advertising the recently shuttered Freedom Forum’s Newseum (formerly located in the Gannett newspaper chain’s signature “USA Today” building across the Potomac in Rosslyn).”
InTowner Publisher and Managing Editor P.L. Wolff justifies the 115-word lead thus: “Yeah, it’s a long paragraph, but I think it kind of sets the mood.” — Erik Wemple