Item No. 1 in the Mystery of the Washington Post‘s Murky Mission: Last December, Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth issues the “Road Forward,” a strategy memo that includes these now-iconic lines: Being for, and about Washington, means addressing our local readers’ core needs. Strong news coverage, enterprise and investigative reporting, expert analysis and informed commentary will continue to be important tools in making sense for local readers of the world around them.”
So far, so murky: “Being for, and about Washington” doesn’t clarify too much, especially when you consider that “Washington” is the locus of infinite local and national stories.
Item No. 2 in the Mystery of the Washington Post‘s Murky Mission: Last week, just after news broke that the Post would be closing its remaining domestic bureaus in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli is quoted in his own paper as follows: “We are not a national news organization of record serving a general audience. Nor are we a wire service or cable channel.”
So far, so more murky: So you’re not a “national news organization of record.” Are you a national news organization of unrecord, or off-the-record? What does this whole “of record” thing mean? And if you’re not a national news organization, why do you retain a sizable “national” desk. And if you’re not a national news organization, why do you cover television with as many resources as you do? If there’s one thing that’s national, it’s tube.
Item No. 3 in the Mystery of the Washington Post‘s Murky Mission: In the course of reporting a blog post about the Post, City Desk wrings the following statement out of Post spokesperson Kris Coratti: “We cover news of interest to our audience, whether it is local, national or international. That hasn’t changed and that won’t change.”
So far, so terribly murky: Now, it seems, the Post‘s whole reportorial outlook is merely reactive. If it appears that some readers want more national stuff, then Congress and global warming legislation they’ll get. If it appears that they want a bit more local, then, hey, let’s go long and hard on Mayor Fenty. And if they develop a bit more curiosity about foreign affairs, double down on troops in Afghanistan.
The Coratti quote reflects just how much chaos is at work in the Post‘s control room. Depending on how you define it, poll it, and focus-group it, your audience can be anything; it can want anything and everything. If your strategy means that you’ll cover pretty much everything so long as some people want to read it, then the strategy isn’t saying too much.