Could 2006 be the year that sinks the Washington Times? Bill Sammon recently jumped ship to join the Washington Examiner and the paper continues to hemorrhage money. Further, two former W. Timers are working on pieces that will open the curtain on what takes place behind the scenes at the Washington Times, and from my conversations with both of them, it sounds as if some damning information could potentially emerge as a result.
First there is George Archibald, who was with the Times for 23 years and who left in December. He is currently in Arizona, working on a book about his time at the Times, tentatively titled “Journalism is War” (a phrase used by Managing Editor Francis Booth Coombs, Archibald’s national editor for many years). Archibald has a shelf full of interesting (some scandalous, some not) stories about the Times but the question is how much will actually make it into his book.
“I won’t be unkind,” Archibald says. “It is not a hit job book.” But it’s clear from talking with Archibald that he’s torn about revealing his full experiences while at the Times and his desire to be respectful of his former colleagues and his place of employment for much of his adult life.
“I do not like bigots and there is some bigotry that I will talk about,” Archibald says. Archibald has other stories (which he may or may not include in the book) about suspiciously canned stories, tempers, egos, poor leadership from the top and the Washington Times purported losses of $2.5 billion over the years.
His book has already caused some tension at W. Times HQ. Coombs has ordered employees not to speak with Archibald, claiming that, in fact, Archibald’s book is a hit job.
It is Archibald’s belief that many seasoned and veteran reporters at the Times have left the paper or been pushed out “because of Coombs ill-tempered micro-management of reporters and repeated changes to their copy without consultation with the reporters, often for apparent ideological, political or other reasons at the behest of senior editors.”
“Some also have told me reporters were pushed out because Coombs did not believe they were sufficiently toeing his line or sufficiently loyal to the way he wanted them to report their beat and write their stories — or because they were senior with high-enough salaries that he could get rid of them and hire two younger “hungry” reporters for their cost who would be his loyalists — that he is remaking the newsroom for the time he might become editor-in-chief after Wes Pruden retires in a year or so.”
(But another W. Timer, however, told us that Coombs’ ascendancy is not a foregone conclusion, even though Pruden has said it publicly in a TV interview. The owners were not happy with Pruden’s presumption and took him to the woodshed over that and he apologized to the company president, Douglas Joo. Tony Blankley, the editorial page editor is definitely a candidate for the editor-in-chief position when Wes retires and Coombs is not a shoo-in by any means.)
Still, Archibald says that his book “won’t be done in a whining, complaining way…There are no sour grapes.”
>UPDATE: Coombs wrote in to us to explain his side: “Just for the record, I have not ordered employees of The Washington Times newsroom not to speak to George Archibald. He has repeated that charge in numerous e-mails to me, and it is simply not true. I presume George also told you that he asked me to rehire him several months ago, so one gathers his employment here was not an altogether unpleasant experience.”
Then there is Robert Redding Jr., who left the paper this year. His story after the jump…
Redding left on the 3rd of February after two and a half years at the Times and dived head first into Redding Communications, Inc.
He’s not quite ready to reveal too much of his poker hand about his experiences at the Washington Times, but he is considering writing some pieces about it.
“I am working on a more in-depth response to that question,” Redding said. “Ultimately there is a story to tell there…I wish the Times all the best.”
It’s hard not to associate Redding’s departure with the announcement of the Times new blogging policy. As we alluded to previously, Redding was one of the Times employees who had a blog of his own, and, depending on your take on things, his blogging may not have squared with the Times’ philosophy.
“The blogging policy was a tipping point,” Redding said. “The blogging policy, I was told, was not about me. It’s a very interesting policy and I respected their policy. I knew that it was time for me to move on and do my own thing. The writing was on the wall as to where I wasn’t headed, thanks in part to the [blogging] decision. It was time to move on to greener pastures.”
But is there more there? Redding seems to share Archibald’s belief that the Times brass creates a difficult newsroom environment. “There are a lot of disgruntled people that work in and have worked for that company…Clearly the Times is in a very competitive media market where they aren’t able to pay top dollar for the top talent they have. What’s more, they are a newspaper with a management team that I don’t think always understands the value of its staff. And that might be a reason that a few people, like George Archibald, are considering memoirs or writings or musings.”
Does Redding also agree with Archibald’s assessment of the Times’ approach to immigration and race issues? “I don’t necessarily agree with the Times’ approach and their name calling, especially when they called them ‘illegal alliens.’ I don’t know what the hell that means…I can’t say that the Washington Times is any more racist than any other American newspaper, but it is definitely not any more friendlier either.
“There’s a culture in newsrooms that if you don’t look like the person who manages you, then you are not valued as much, you’re not seen as being useful. There are not a lot of black men in newsrooms and especially in print newsrooms across the country because they don’t want them there. Period. And that’s not specific to the Times. It’s a lot of newspapers.”
This is likely not the last we’ll hear from these two.