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Live-Blogging: Downie Interview

DownieLen_L.jpgWe’re at Nathans Georgetown right now and live-blogging the “Q&A Cafe” interview of Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie, Jr. by host Carol Joynt. (In chronological order)

  • Sitting with Jim Kimsey, Victoria Michaels and Pam Sorensen (with whom, one’s thirst can be quenched) before the interview, Downie confesses to them that both he and Don Graham read the Sports section first thing in the morning (not together natch…). He also brags about the number of comics in the Washington Post and how it compares with other papers.

  • Says Downie to the table: “I figure that the people who interview ought to subject themselves to interviews once in a while.”

  • Ben Bradlee put a whoopee cushion under Downie’s seat. Just kidding.

  • Downie’s working on his beach figure, declining the food and saying “I don’t need to eat that much anyway.”

  • Joynt, referring to the Post’s Pulitzer sweep, says “It’s certainly been a good week for Len Downie and the Washington Post.” (applause) “I planned this allthe way along,” she jokes. “The DC Madam last spring, Len Downie this spring.” (laughter)

  • He’s explaining to the table how the paper comes to me…editorial meeting…what gets put on the website…what holds for the paper, etc. “Starting about 4 in the afternoon, I leave my office and go to the news desk in the news room….People start lobbying us. … We talk and discuss various things and start to make decisions.” I like to walk around I walk around and visit people. … I usually work until about 8 o’clock.”

  • Beach figure be damned: Downie digs into his lunch.

  • On the website: “It’s doing really well. We have about 15 million unique visitors doing well. 10 million page views a day. It’s doing very well. It’s really increased our readership and what I really like is all the multimedia stuff.”

  • Is the Internet a threat? “We used to think so. … I no longer think of us as a newsroom. I think of us as a multimedia newsroom. … The print audience is shrinking as the web audience grows.”

  • “I’m really amazed at how many people listen to our podcasts,” said Downie. “A lot of our podcasts are tops on iTunes and that really surprises me, it really does.”

  • “We’re still working on how to best deliver our content to handheld devices.”

  • Interview begins…

  • Joynt: “Did you ever think you would win in a group that included Bob Dylan.” (Laughter) Downie: “Ha, no I didn’t.”

  • Referring to how the Virginia Tech reporters donated their prize to charity, Downie joked, “We have other ways of rewarding them.”

  • The Pulitzer Public Service award is his favorite, “because that’s why we’re in this business: To service the public.”

  • “I call Steve Pearlstein ‘The Scold’ because, like me, he’s always scolding everyone.”

  • On Jo Becker, who left for the New York Times: “We’ll still get her back somehow.” Referring to Becker’s husband, Serge Kovaleski, who was a key decision to move to New York, “We call him the ‘Traitor’ in the newsroom.”

  • Referring to Becker/Bart Gellman’s “Cheney” series: “At first we didn’t like that story … we thought it’d be too hard to do.”

    More after the jump…


  • “This is an industry in an enormous transition…The journalism about this is overly negative…Newspapers won’t disappear. Our newspaper won’t disappear.”

  • “We’ve having to downsize some, too but we’re still gonna have a great stuff.”

  • Referring to the fact that Kaplan helps keep the paper afloat, Downie jokes, “We like being in the education business.”

  • “The most important thing to me in American journalism is accountability journalism: Holding the powerful accountable … That’s not going to happen on your average local telvision reporter which doesn’t have the resources to do that. … It’s gonna happen in newspaper newsrooms, however it is we project our journalism.”

  • “Our web advertising is growing at the same time newspaper advertising is shrinking but not at the same rate.”

  • Will the newspaper ever be gone? “I just can’t see that.”

  • On how Downie found out about the Pulitzer win: “I can’t tell you that … Okay, we found out Friday after the board had made their decisions, but the board keeps them secret. … We let the winners know but they weren’t allowed to tell anybody else. … Ben Bradlee came down to see me. He still has an office in the building. He regularly comes down to visit.”

  • “When I succeeded [Bradlee], he forbid himself from coming to the newsroom for a while … I eventually had to drag him in anyway. It’s nice to have him around.” Downie says he’s consulted Bradlee “usually on personnel matters.”

  • Downie jokes that “nearly all of [his reporters] are not quite normal. … They’re a handful … Sometimes with really talented people you can have difficult problems to solve.”

  • “Back in the 1960s we’d hire anybody. … Obviously people with special backgrounds we want.”

  • On media writers: “I’m not always pleased with what the Washingtonian writes but I have great respect for Erik Wemple.” And, yes, Harry Jaffe is in the audience.

  • On covering the candidates: “The rules is a simple one: Is it true? If it’s true can we prove it? If we can prove it, is it germane to someone running for office?”

  • “It’s been a while since we had a president who was really engaged in what goes on in Washington, D.C.”

  • “I find [D.C. Mayor] Fenty a fascinating guy…He’s just always campaigning! … He’s an amazing guy. We’ll see if all that energy translates into good decision making or not … He’s not cautious at all. … I enjoy talking to him.”

  • “I’ve had several different families of children … One set of children went to D.C. schools. It was fine but it was a long time ago.”

  • Calls the Graham’s “a great family.”

  • Katharine Graham was a citizen of the world, just an immensely impressive woman and yet at the same time, she was very, very modest.”

  • “When she won the Pulitzer prize for ‘Personal History’ … she and the late Meg Greenfield and myself were crowded over the computer watching it and you could see that not until that moment she grasped that she had won the Pulitzer Prize.” They hugged. “Don Graham and I hugged a lot this week.”

  • Transition from Katharine to Don Graham: “They both have the same values. … [Don and I] had a lot of contact through the years so when he became publisher it was a pretty seamless transition.”

  • Says he and Katharine Weymouth talk a lot about the buyouts, the relationships between the newsroom and website. “I’m not going to talk about” who his successor is. “She has to have her own editor at some point and I have to retire at some point.”

  • Saying that the web and paper are “worlds apart is probably an exaggeration. … These are two different cultures and they had to grow up in their own worlds … Newspapers were very un-Webby ten years ago. Not it’s very Webby. … Naturally you’re going to have tensions.”

  • On whether they’ll ever share the same building. “That’s possible.”

  • “Our political coverage in print and online demonstrates how close they can work together. It is now seamless coordination.”

  • “I thought I could never write fiction because I don’t have much of an imagination.” Discussing his novel, “it’s a Washington novel” and there’s love and sex! “My agent and editor said ‘very awkward!” Knopf is going to publish it. Working title is “The Rules of the Game”, it’s about investigative reporting and politics. “There are a lot of books I want to write, both fiction and nonfiction.”

  • “News is probably my first love. I’m learning how to love words. I was always a reporter first. I was an investigative reporting and writing is usually secondary to reporting.” Admires Becker and Gellman for being able to do both.

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