City Paper is not for tourists
Below is a memo sent from Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. and Managing Editor Phil Bennett in the aftermath of the latest downsizing initiative at the paper. Bold text comes from snarky media critic.
To: Newsroom staff May 16, 2008 From: Len and Phil
Over the next few weeks, more than 100 of our colleagues and friends will leave the newsroom after accepting the early retirement offer. While several will be here for the next few months, most will end their careers at The Post by June 1. We’re happy for those who have taken this opportunity to start a new, cash-rich chapter in their lives—and save our newsroom hundreds of thousands of dollars—, but we will miss them.
The rest of us are entering a new phase in our transformation of the newsroom to meet the challenges facing us as an industry, as a news organization and as journalists—i.e., to take on the tasks that our departed “colleagues and friends” used to do. While we do not yet know all the ways in which we will proceed, there is no self-doubt or confusion about the direction in which we’re headed: into the toilet, along with the rest of the print industry. We will remain engaged in impactful journalism about local, national and international news, regardless of
which the platform on which it is delivered to readers. We will retain the passion for our craft, the spirit of discovery, aimless multi-part series, the suppression of corrections, and the commitment to service and to each other that defines The Washington Post.
We are accelerating the process of structural change in the newsroom, not only to adapt to the size of our staff and resources, but to innovate and create journalism that we aspire to and that our readers demand—especially the young mothers who are dissing our publication in record numbers—in print and on electronic platforms. We have discussed many of these changes before, but some are worth highlighting, especially for those who get off on bureaucracy. They all require your participation, ideas and energy.
Refining our editing model. Last month we launched a pilot program for editing the content of the A section, along with a redesign. Perhaps most inspirationally, We redistributed editing authority across copy and assignment editors, changed deadlines, and reduced the number of editors, with the goal of pleasing Ted Leonsis and replacing an assembly line model with that of a network. These changes have been successful, and we are making them permanent. A similar model will be adopted by Financial on June 1 and will spread to other sections over the summer.
Setting new directions. In searching for new leadership for the National, Style and News Art staffs, we are seeking new ideas from old staffers for coverage, story forms, staff structure and collaboration with the Web. We have begun similar discussions about the missions, content and structures of Health, Travel, KidsPost and other sections. Those discussions about missions, content and structures have been fascinating.
Focusing our priorities. We are channeling our reporting resources into coverage that matters most—hint: no more Angus Phillips writing about dogs and hot soup—and is of greatest interest to our readers by redefining beats and responsibilities. “Redefining,” here, simply means loading more work on all of you. This newsroom is a unique and, to us, precious place. Its creation over many years and by many hands is one of the enduring and wonderful accomplishments of American journalism. Actually, no need for such modesty after winning six Pulitzers: It is the most enduring and wonderful accomplishment of journalism on this planet. It was built in good times and bad, shaped especially by periods of trial, when our courage, commitment and creativity were challenged.
We are now in such a period
now. (A little repetitive there, boss: Thank God for the new editing structure!) We’re confident that we’ll be equal to it.