City Paper is not for tourists
In June, a bunch of Washington Post executives, including Publisher Katharine Weymouth, traveled to Cambridge, Mass., for a skull session at Harvard Business School. The idea was to launch a top-to-bottom rethinking of the Post‘s biz model—you know, the usual big-picture questions such as What do we do now? What should we do? What do we do best?
The answer to that last question may be this: Create committees and deliberate.
Over the past several months, a large committee of Posties—around 30 to 40, according to sources—has been batting around ideas for the Nouveau Washington Post. In late summer, they dumped a ton of recommendations and analysis on three key players at the Post: Publisher Weymouth; Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli; and President and General Manager Stephen Hills.
That triumvirate then turned around and attempted to distill all the information into one grand, shiny, visionary, inspirational strategic plan. A couple of weeks ago, they came out of hiding and showed their work.
Not enough specifics, said the reviewing committee, according to multiple Post sources. The plan was apparently steeped in broad-brush proclamations about what the paper should be, but stingy on the sort of detail needed for managers who must execute, execute, execute!
So the powerful, insular group of top, top executives is going to rework this beast, adding details and focus and—who knows!—maybe even a how-to sidebar or something like that. (No sourcing for that last bit—pure conjecture.) A new product is supposed to be ready for inspection sometime in December.
No one contacted on this matter—eight officials in the know—would speak for the record, as if company strategy were, like, some kind of sensitive topic.
Oh, check that: Weymouth herself got back to me, with this thorough response:
The goal of the strategy process (which has received far more attention than it deserves) was not to change what we do, but to refocus the organization and help us shape The Washington Post for the 21st century. Our goal, as it always has been, is to serve our audiences (in print, online, wherever) and to do that with a strong business behind base. We went to Harvard to acquire a framework and then rolled it out to a broader cross-functional group. We (Marcus, Steve and I) then pulled their recommendations into one strategy and approach. The group was disappointed that we did not provide them with the details of what the strategy means for them. We postponed the broader staff meeting in order to try to flesh out more detail. That said, our goal with the strategy is not to provide all the answers – it is to set the direction.