Lost amid the institutional mugging about Washington Post music writer Tim Page’s Pulitzer Prize was Post columnist Tony Kornheiser’s finalist finish in the category of “Distinguished Commentary.” Let that just sink in a bit…the Korndog, the Pulitzers, and “Distinguished Commentary.” Sunday Style editor Gene Weingarten, who wrote the cover letter on Kornheiser’s submissions, didn’t even try to suppress a giggle when he took a call about Kornheiser’s close call with journalism’s brass ring. “I guess you can argue a bit with the wording. ‘Distinguished’ isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of Tony’s work. Funny. Very funny. But distinguished?” The big thinkers at the Post decided to send the Pulitzer committee eight Sunday Style columns and one sports column by Kornholio. Middlebrow wisenheimer Dave Barry snuck away with a Pulitzer in the 1980s, so it’s not unthinkable that the Korndog, a middle-aged Beavis with no Butt-head (the sound of one head banging), threatened to walk away with one of journalism’s most prestigious awards. But the mind reels when you consider which slice of the Korndog’s rat-a-tat-tat, six-jokes-per-inch oeuvre the Post might have entered. Was it a column about his pal Nancy, his dog Maggie, or one of his paeans to Guyness? Or maybe it was one of those columns where he wanders around the newsroom gathering stray bits of string until he has something to bounce off of in print. The tastemakers behind the Pulitzers have apparently developed a fondness for cheap cigars and even cheaper har-hars. Page takes home $5,000imagine how many T-bones Tony could have bought with thatand the immense gratitude of his bosses for ending the paper’s one-year Pulitzer hiatus.
Print Is Dead The Post’s 1996 annual report is out, and let’s just say that Katie shouldn’t be planning any major purchases in 1997. The Post conglomerate did OK, with operating revenues up 8 percent and income up a tidy 24 percent on the strength of its broadcast properties. But the print flagship stunk it up. In a year of lower paper prices, rebounding retail, and great numbers in the rest of the newspaper industry, the Post’s overall advertising linage fell 4 percent; retail ads were down a whopping 9 percent, while classifieds and general advertising were flat as a pancake. Circulation dropped 1 percent as well.
To account for its rotten performance, Post brass turned to the same excuses the paper’s business writers have recited ad nauseam in profiles on the 1996 business climate: a severe winter, federal employment cutbacks, a government shutdown, and a bad local economy. They forgot to mention that the sun got in their eyes.
Newspaper President Bo Jones and executive editor Len Downie are pinning hopes of a turnaround on new production facilities that will shrink the paper’s margins by an inch. It’s a nice fit: smaller paper, fewer readers.
Although most messages to shareholders don’t include literary criticism, Chairman Donald E. Graham and President Alan Spoon pointed out in a footnote that, “In keeping with her habit of starting at the top, Mrs. Graham’s [Personal History] became the number-one nonfiction bestseller in the country two weeks after publication. Anyone interested in the story and evolution of the Washington Post Companyor just in reading a good bookwill enjoy it.” Trust the ever-resourceful Ms. Graham to endow her own future while the newspaper she built languishes.
Dead On What is it with Richard Harrington and dead people? Whenever somebody dies, Harrington comes through with compelling obitry that brings people alive in ways he rarely does when he writes about the living. Singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, who died recently of ovarian cancer, was just the latest in the list of slabbed artists who have been gracefully embalmed by Harrington. Before that, it was a definitive appreciation of Bill Monroe and a banjo-inflected kaddish to John Duffey of the Seldom Scene. Harrington may not have his finger on the pulse of contemporary music, but once that pulse stops, trust him to come through with an elegiac wonder.
And now the word has come down that Harrington may be called upon to do a requiem for “On the Beat,” the Wednesday music column he has been doing for 15 years. His most recent oneabout how dead guys sell more records, ironically enoughwill be his last. “It wasn’t my choice. I thought it was a good column that met a lot of needs, but the editors told me they don’t like columns much. They thought that my talents could be better utilized elsewhere,” says Harrington. Arts editor John Pancake explained that the section will feature more records instead of “On the Beat”: “We are shifting around what we do on the arts page. I am not opposed to columns, but the Post has a lot of columns, and I think that there are just some we can do without. I just think that we shouldn’t keep doing columns just because we did them last year.”
A Samaritan and His Gun In a story about the capture of some Virginia carjackers in Kansas last week, Post writer John Fountain generously recast the Good Samaritan as a vigilante with his heart in the right place. Two Virginia teens kidnapped a 17-year-old kid from Herndon, ditched him in Raleigh, and then headed to Kansas. After they took off from a convenience store without paying for gas and crashed into another car, they were “held at gunpoint by a local good Samaritan until police arrived, Jefferson County sheriff’s officials said.” Now that’s neighborliness of a very high caliber.
Exit Agreement D.C. Inspector General resigns under pressure from the control board 15 months into her job. In exchange for going quietly from a job she clearly never had the stomach for, she is handed nine months’ pay and benefits. Pretty juicy, huh? Not at the PostAngela Avant’s parting gift was dealt with in a single line in a digest item on Page 3 of Metro. If it had been Barry, and not the control board, who negotiated that settlement, he would have been keelhauled on Page One.
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