An open letter to The Washington Post:
I met the problem newspapers like The Washington Post face. She is a 30-ish admissions nurse at Inova Hospital.
I was sitting in her office clutching The Post and the Wall Street Journal, my hands gray with newsprint. She noticed and volunteered, “I stopped my subscription recently because the paper was all yesterday’s news.” She confirmed to me that she gets her news online.
The most obvious way to profit from readers like her is to give her information she can’t readily get elsewhere or charge for online content. Maybe you put it in newsprint before going online with it, if you think newsprint is your future.
I suggest you might save both your newsprint and online real estate for stories that readers like her care about. Dan Balz’s article about a “pep rally” is a case in point. I understand that The Post’s reputation has been built on its reporting of politics, but that’s no longer helpful for two reasons.
One, Politico, Huffington Post, blogs, etc. give us more and faster.
Two, politics has become so predictable and offensive. Writing an article that’s nothing more than dueling talking points probably holds little interest for most of your readers. Exactly how many of them care to hear the partisan tit-for-tat about what might happen a year from now? And even “Republicans acknowledge that events could change the political landscape before next November.” In March 2007, a year before Obama’s breakthrough victories in the primaries, who would have bet on his being president? Still, let’s assume such navel gazing matters to political insiders. Count them all. I’m sure there are thousands. Are there enough to save The Post?
Now consider Shear and Eggen’s story this morning. There is no news there except the coordinated effort by healthcare opponents to tie the recent mammogram study to “healthcare rationing.” And The Post dutifully obliged to help that effort with front page placement. The lede has no news hook: “opponents stepped up efforts to define the legislation as big-government ambition run amok that will interfere with intimate medical decisions and threaten the pocketbooks of average taxpayers.” Is that news? Increased taxes had never been mentioned before yesterday? “Stepped up efforts”? I was unaware opponents were holding their powder before yesterday. The story is “fair and balanced,” if that’s your criteria for good journalism. But is this story of any value to my admissions nurse? It certainly helped “radio show host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News host Glenn Beck,” who again seem to act as The Post’s assignment editors.
I might argue with at least one point in the article: “Obama administration officials [say the] U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which issued the [mammogram] guidelines, has no power to affect coverage decisions by insurance companies.” In fact, insurance companies could use the results of the task force as a rationale to cut coverage for mammograms for women under 50.
But my complaint is not about any partisan slant or arguable point. Nor is it with any of these reporters. My problem is their talents are going to waste because of bad decisions about what content readers want. That ultimately rests with Mr. Brauchli. Maybe he needs a push from the national editors.
Maybe readers want more critical analysis of the big issues of our day, which I seem to get more of in Post columns than I do in daily stories. Or maybe it’s a curriculum change being considered by the local school board. I don’t know, but surely it isn’t what The Post has done for decades. That’s over. You’ve lost that war, at least for your newsprint edition. And I would argue that getting the story about the Republican governors’ conference on your web site faster isn’t the answer, either.