The New York Times’ David Carr recently hammered Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth for, in his words, “upending the loyalty and accountability that has been a hallmark of her family’s ownership of the newspaper.” Carr nails the problems at the Post, in my opinion.
He raised questions about Weymouth’s “maturity and steadfastness as an operational leader,” while underscoring that the Post remains an important newspaper. It was Weymouth who wanted to sell access to the newspaper’s editors and reporters to Washington power brokers and lobbyists a couple of years ago, an idea that was a dark chapter in journalistic ethics.
“Ms. Weymouth’s continued misfires, along with the lack of success in generating new revenue, however, have left the newspaper staring down the gun barrel of deep cuts and a business model in free fall,” Carr wrote.
My personal history with the Post goes back a long way to when I delivered the morning paper as a kid in our neighborhood. The Post has always been my hometown newspaper. It is part of the fabric of journalism in America. Certainly, its coverage of Watergate in 1972 was historic.
The Washington Post’s recent stumbles and self-inflicted damage to its own credibility go back at least a decade, to when the Post began a policy of one-sided coverage of the Bush White House “shock and awe” decision to invade Iraq following the 9-11 attacks in 2001. Post reporters were not permitted to cover any story that might interfere with the effort by Post management to coddle favor with the then-administration.
I was part of rebranding effort called-in in 2006 to reshape the Post’s image into that of a “national newspaper.” The then-executive in charge of the newspaper’s website insisted on a strategy of press releases to other newspapers across the country. She was convinced that other papers would write about, “the national newspaper, The Washington Post.” Not surprisingly, that did not work.
Today, the Washington Post is on an uncontrollable downward spiral, in revenue, circulation, online clout, and reputation.
Since the Post has tried seemingly everything to save itself from itself, let me suggest an approach:
- Replace publisher Weymouth with an accomplished entrepreneur who knows the world of online news, and how to generate revenue. Mark Cuban or Tony Hsieh (founder, Zappos) come to mind.
- Write a two-page strategic plan in plain language to revitalize (save) the Post and make it more competitive in today’s digital era. Then, make the strategic plan public.
- Replace everyone at WashingtonPost.com who lacks journalistic or online credentials. That should pretty much empty the room. Then, poach talent from The New York Times, Huffington Post, Politico, and places like Apple and Amazon.
- Redesign completely the amateurish-looking online news site.
- Get rid of all of the Weymouth/Graham friends and socialites who have any influence over the newspaper, paper and online.
- Build a new level of excitement – within the Post and publicly - in a highly savvy and contemporary style that tells the world that the Post is back in the game.
Category: Reputation management