City Paper is not for tourists
Staffers for the national page of the Washington Post gathered Thursday morning for their first section-wide meeting since the removal of top national editor Susan Glasser. They came away shaking their heads: Characterizations from attendees ranged from “bizarre” to “Orwellian.”
Why so strange? Because the folks leading the meeting failed to address head-on the extraordinary events of recent days. On Monday, the Post dumped Glasser following a months-long probe into her management practices. She was reassigned to a job with corporate. The move capped off months of sniping and gossip in the national hive, much of it concerning the boss.
Managing Editor Phil Bennett kicked off Thursday’s meeting by talking a lot about change and innovation in the newsroom. He mentioned that a staff meeting was not the proper forum to discuss the recent Glasser trauma. (Hey, Mr. ME, what’s a better forum—-an online chat?)
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who is now in charge of national, stressed the importance of communication on the staff and mentioned that his door is always open. Though he included a nod to Glasser’s innovations, he, too, was silent on the trauma of her time at the helm.
Bill Hamilton, the section’s No. 2, didn’t come any closer to addressing the elephant in the room.
“It was like nothing had happened and it was a routine planning session,” says a Postie who attended the session.
Then Post veteran and former top national editor Karen DeYoung spoke up. Though she wasn’t running the meeting, she did show some leadership. She noted that the staff was split on Glasser—-some liked her contributions, others didn’t. Either way, DeYoung had apparently decided that those contributions merited some recognition, and she initiated a round of applause toward that end.
What followed was, in the testimony of four people in attendance, one of the most muted and awkward ovations in the history of journalistic morale-boosting.
The squirming, sidestepping, and half-hearted hand claps were an expression of deference to Glasser’s husband, Peter Baker, who was right there listening to it all. Baker is a ferocious defender of his wife’s work, and her fall from grace has not-so-oddly coincided with a series of talks between Baker and the New York Times. “It was like Susan was in the room because Peter was there, so that kind of stifled things,” says a source in attendance.
- Bennett said that the Post will move quickly to replace Glasser.
- Good news for competitors of the Post: The paper has reportedly overspent big time on its budget for political coverage, a topic that came up in the meeting. Chandrasekaran attributed the problem to the extended fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. Private scoffing ensued: Under Glasser, staffers were sent all over the political map with very little coordination. One of the running jokes among political reporters covering Iowa, for example, was that they’d show up at an event only to find two other Posties already on the scene.