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Post is Suffering a ‘Failure of Imagination’

weingarten_gene.jpgThe Post’s internal critiques continue to provide much fodder for discussion both inside and outside the paper. This week, the Post’s funnyman, Gene Weingarten, took up the challenge and delivered one of the most eloquent, passionate, and challenging critiques of the paper and its current station in Washington yet:

“How can we still wonder why our profession is swirling counterclockwise down the toilet in a maelstrom of irrelevancy, a relentless vortex fed by the fetid stench of our shocking ineptitude, when we keep making the same idiotic, reader-unfriendly mistakes? Today is a case in point, in our very own newspaper, where, as any moderately talented journalism student would understand, the photo at the top of page 12F should have been cropped one-sixteenth of an inch lower so that …

“What? Oh, sorry. Been reading too many critiques.”

After the intial joke, Weingarten actually takes the case rather seriously, and he is, admittedly, “high” on the Post. He lays the blame for the newspaper’s troubles not on its “too long” articles or on the need for a redesign to appeal to younger readers. Instead, he says, it’s a “failure of imagination” on the part of the newspaper’s marketers.

“I would like to suggest that if this particular product is not selling the way we wish it to, and if the future looks bleak to us, it bespeaks a failure of imagination in the field of marketing. The Washington Post–print edition–may be an atavism, an ancient technology, but so is the doorknob. If we cannot persuade the public that this remains the single greatest bargain on Earth, we need to rethink the way we sell ourselves. And I’m not talking about ‘rails.’ I’m talking about salesmen, selling the CONCEPT of a great newspaper in new and provocative ways,” Weingarten writes.

Full critique after the jump.
weingarten_gene.jpgThe Post’s internal critiques continue to provide much fodder for discussion both inside and outside the paper. This week, the Post’s funnyman, Gene Weingarten, took up the challenge and delivered one of the most eloquent, passionate, and challenging critiques of the paper and its current station in Washington yet:

“How can we still wonder why our profession is swirling counterclockwise down the toilet in a maelstrom of irrelevancy, a relentless vortex fed by the fetid stench of our shocking ineptitude, when we keep making the same idiotic, reader-unfriendly mistakes? Today is a case in point, in our very own newspaper, where, as any moderately talented journalism student would understand, the photo at the top of page 12F should have been cropped one-sixteenth of an inch lower so that …

“What? Oh, sorry. Been reading too many critiques.”

After the intial joke, Weingarten actually takes the case rather seriously, and he is, admittedly, “high” on the Post. He lays the blame for the newspaper’s troubles not on its “too long” articles or on the need for a redesign to appeal to younger readers. Instead, he says, it’s a “failure of imagination” on the part of the newspaper’s marketers.

“I would like to suggest that if this particular product is not selling the way we wish it to, and if the future looks bleak to us, it bespeaks a failure of imagination in the field of marketing. The Washington Post–print edition–may be an atavism, an ancient technology, but so is the doorknob. If we cannot persuade the public that this remains the single greatest bargain on Earth, we need to rethink the way we sell ourselves. And I’m not talking about ‘rails.’ I’m talking about salesmen, selling the CONCEPT of a great newspaper in new and provocative ways,” Weingarten writes.

Full critique after the jump.
weingarten_gene.jpgThe Post’s internal critiques continue to provide much fodder for discussion both inside and outside the paper. This week, the Post’s funnyman, Gene Weingarten, took up the challenge and delivered one of the most eloquent, passionate, and challenging critiques of the paper and its current station in Washington yet:

“How can we still wonder why our profession is swirling counterclockwise down the toilet in a maelstrom of irrelevancy, a relentless vortex fed by the fetid stench of our shocking ineptitude, when we keep making the same idiotic, reader-unfriendly mistakes? Today is a case in point, in our very own newspaper, where, as any moderately talented journalism student would understand, the photo at the top of page 12F should have been cropped one-sixteenth of an inch lower so that …

“What? Oh, sorry. Been reading too many critiques.”

After the intial joke, Weingarten actually takes the case rather seriously, and he is, admittedly, “high” on the Post. He lays the blame for the newspaper’s troubles not on its “too long” articles or on the need for a redesign to appeal to younger readers. Instead, he says, it’s a “failure of imagination” on the part of the newspaper’s marketers.

“I would like to suggest that if this particular product is not selling the way we wish it to, and if the future looks bleak to us, it bespeaks a failure of imagination in the field of marketing. The Washington Post–print edition–may be an atavism, an ancient technology, but so is the doorknob. If we cannot persuade the public that this remains the single greatest bargain on Earth, we need to rethink the way we sell ourselves. And I’m not talking about ‘rails.’ I’m talking about salesmen, selling the CONCEPT of a great newspaper in new and provocative ways,” Weingarten writes.

Full critique after the jump.
weingarten_gene.jpgThe Post’s internal critiques continue to provide much fodder for discussion both inside and outside the paper. This week, the Post’s funnyman, Gene Weingarten, took up the challenge and delivered one of the most eloquent, passionate, and challenging critiques of the paper and its current station in Washington yet:

“How can we still wonder why our profession is swirling counterclockwise down the toilet in a maelstrom of irrelevancy, a relentless vortex fed by the fetid stench of our shocking ineptitude, when we keep making the same idiotic, reader-unfriendly mistakes? Today is a case in point, in our very own newspaper, where, as any moderately talented journalism student would understand, the photo at the top of page 12F should have been cropped one-sixteenth of an inch lower so that …

“What? Oh, sorry. Been reading too many critiques.”

After the intial joke, Weingarten actually takes the case rather seriously, and he is, admittedly, “high” on the Post. He lays the blame for the newspaper’s troubles not on its “too long” articles or on the need for a redesign to appeal to younger readers. Instead, he says, it’s a “failure of imagination” on the part of the newspaper’s marketers.

“I would like to suggest that if this particular product is not selling the way we wish it to, and if the future looks bleak to us, it bespeaks a failure of imagination in the field of marketing. The Washington Post–print edition–may be an atavism, an ancient technology, but so is the doorknob. If we cannot persuade the public that this remains the single greatest bargain on Earth, we need to rethink the way we sell ourselves. And I’m not talking about ‘rails.’ I’m talking about salesmen, selling the CONCEPT of a great newspaper in new and provocative ways,” Weingarten writes.

Full critique after the jump.


GENE WEINGARTEN, Staff Writer, Magazine

How can we still wonder why our profession is swirling counterclockwise
down the toilet in a maelstrom of irrelevancy, a relentless vortex fed
by the fetid stench of our shocking ineptitude, when we keep making the
same idiotic, reader-unfriendly mistakes? Today is a case in point, in
our very own newspaper, where, as any moderately talented journalism
student would understand, the photo at the top of page 12F should have
been cropped one-sixteenth of an inch lower so that …

What? Oh, sorry. Been reading too many critiques.

Listen, I left my house at 10 a.m. this morning and went in search of
anything within walking distance that I could purchase for 35 cents or
less. (I live in downtown DC, across from Eastern Market, so this wasn’t
an empty exercise.) I just got back, and I have my purchases arrayed on
the table before me. They are:

A slice of liverwurst; a cardboard container of cole slaw the size of a
shot glass; a two-inch strip of turkey jerky; an underripe singlet
banana; a raw chicken gizzard; an age- wrinkled cucumber (“Still good
for pickling!”) and The Washington Post of Nov. 2, 2005, which contains
the following:

1. A story by Dana Priest disclosing the existence of a shadowy web of
U.S.-run prisoner interrogation camps so secret that it will surprise
some of the most powerful people in this country and the world. This
story is so potentially explosive that we actually aren’t telling
everything we know, for the sake of world peace.

2. A food-section recipe for shittake mushroom chicken ravioli that, I
am reliably informed (wife), is “absolutely intriguing.”

3. A rafter-shaking, gauntlet-tossing column by the fearless Courtland
Milloy in which he attempts to shame and infuriate and catalyze into
civic involvement the entire student body of Howard University. And it’s
so antagonistic and correct it just may work.

4. The op-ed headline “President Pushover,” which says brilliantly in
two words what David Broder then nails in 600 with the sort of calm,
indisputable authority that can be achieved only by, well, David Broder
of the Washington Post.

5. An “In the Loop” column in which Al Kamen discloses that the
Department of Homeland Security has bought an $87,000 shredder capable
of dispatching 1,400 pounds of paper per hour.

6. The following unforgettable sentence, contained in a Style piece by
Robin Givhan about the Royal Couple’s visit to New York: “If anyone was
pressed to offer an opinion of Camilla, he or she either reiterated a
few pleasantries or stared at the questioner in a quiet state of alarm.”

And so forth.

I would like to suggest that if this particular product is not selling the way we wish it to, and if the future looks bleak to us, it bespeaks a failure of imagination in the field of marketing. The Washington Post–print edition–may be an atavism, an ancient technology, but so is the doorknob. If we cannot persuade the public that this remains the single greatest bargain on Earth, we need to rethink the way we sell ourselves. And I’m not talking about “rails.” I’m talking about salesmen, selling the CONCEPT of a great newspaper in new and
provocative ways.

We are a newspaper that has been getting better and better, in large
ways and small, year by year. When I was new at The Post, back in 1991,
I was invited to address the editors at Pugwash. The topic I chose was
how The Post was too boring, and I prepared a funny slide show.
Afterward, everyone agreed that it was just a marvelous presentation,
and a valuable way to look at ourselves constructively through the
healthful prism of humor, and I shared many laughs about it with
colleagues roughly five years later, when people started talking to me
again. I don’t recall everything about my presentation, but I do
remember that I noted that, far too often, the most interesting and
grabbing piece in the paper was a National Brief. That was because the
Post applied different standards to National Briefs — they didn’t have
to be important, just interesting, and I suggested that we needed to
apply this criterion more often.

We do that, now (I claim no credit at all – these changes were already
in the works in 1991, and if anything, the joyful hostility in my little
slide show may well have delayed them.) The point is, today, it is no
surprise to see on A1 a perfectly delightful piece like today’s by Mary
Jordan, on the Brits’ new citizenship exam. It had nothing going for it,
except that it was just a terrific read.

I’m in no mood to pick fights today, but I cannot forbear raising here
the single, dominant issue that befouls and discredits The Washington
Post. It is a daily error of grotesque proportions that must be
rectified if we are to truly consider ourselves a great American
newspaper. The best way to explain this is to recall one of my favorite
Style Invitational entries of all time. The challenge was to come up
with a really, really bad pickup line for a guy to use in a bar. The
winning entry was: “Hi! I work at the Washington Post! I am the guy who
moved Dilbert to the Business section!”

This horror must end. I read the comics for a living, and I often forget
to read Dilbert, because Business is simply not one of my must-reads.
Nor will it ever be, merely because Dilbert is there. In fact, every
time I remember to open Business simply to SEE Dilbert, I feel a wave of
resentment at being manipulated, and I resolve that I will not read a
word of the rest of the damn section even if contains a story about my
own pending indictment. Our comics page carries too many lousy comics;
it can’t afford not to carry a truly good one.

Other than that, I’m high on The Post, and in no mood to nitpick. But
some nitpickery seems to be de rigueur in this format, so let me raise
just three minor points.

1. That fabulous Givhan story took too long getting started. I almost
gave up on it before the jump, which would have been a tragedy. The top
was fine, but it was mostly dutiful reportage, and it was only because I
know Robin’s writing (and was doing this critique) that I hung on. The
bottom of that story was absolutely fabulous, as they say.

2. A brickbat to the Elizabethan-tongued copyeditor who wrote this
headline: “DeLay Loath to Doff His Leadership Hat.” Forsooth, I say.

3. The (unintentionally) funniest story today was on B2, about a
graffito found in Charles County that “included a word sometimes used
pejoratively about black people.” The story then added that it was
possible this word referred only to Halloween. Out of delicacy,
presumably, we declined to specify the middlin’ epithet in question.
This resulted in what was, in my opinion, a totally ridiculous but
highly entertaining story. After a full hour debate, my wife finally
figured out what the word must be, which made us laugh even more. This
story was a silly mistake. Simply not a story. In my opinion.

Still with me? This already-long critique is about to get longer,
because of a promise I made to readers in my online chat yesterday. Feel
free to stop reading whenever you wish. (See, that is the joy of a
newspaper! You only read what you want! No, we do not need shorter stories.)

In my chat, anticipating this critique, I conducted a poll of readers
about their views of The Washington Post (both print and online
editions.) It had three age splits. The poll, of course, was strongly
slanted to online readers (something like 70 percent of the chat
audience is from outside our circulation area.) You can link to the poll
here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2005/10/26/DI2005102600581.html

but I can summarize what I see as the two headlines. (As of this
morning, more than 3,000 people had responded) [Editors note: because
there is a hyphen in the middle of the link, Word insisted on making the
link two lines, but the link above should work as written, it did for
me. jlr]:

1. Our readers love us. I led with our chin, giving people a smorgasbord
of familiar options for what they find wrong with The Post (bad
graphics, long/boring stories, politically slanted, bad writing, etc.)
but the most overwhelming choice, across all age groups, was “None of
these is serious enough to constitute a significant flaw.” All age
groups chose The Post (and other newspapers) as the news source they
would be least willing to give up.

2. Even in this Web-skewed poll, it is clear, and comes as no surprise,
that people under 30 read us far more often online than in print. What
is also clear, however, is that these are among our most loyal and
appreciative readers.

I also invited readers to send in their critiques of today’s Post and
promised them that I would excerpt some of their best observations. I
didn’t expect a particularly large response because I also gave them a
9:45 a.m. deadline. As of seven o’clock this morning, however, I had 12
thoughtful responses. It is now 9:45, and there are more than 50. I am
paring them ruthlessly.

The best of their comments follows, but only after I make one more
observation of my own. I note from msgpost that also scheduled to submit a critique today is “Bzdekv.” I just want the powers that be at The Post to know that we writers are on to their little game. I have never met
Mr. Bzdekv, nor, I think, am I ever likely to. Obviously, “Bzdekv” is a
fiction, a corporate “house name” used by The Post to subtly advance its
agenda under the guise of self-appraisal. Could you guys have been any
MORE obvious? Why not “Mr. Mxyzptlk” while you’re at it? ——–
CONVERT BREAKS: __default__

GENE WEINGARTEN, Staff Writer, Magazine

How can we still wonder why our profession is swirling counterclockwise
down the toilet in a maelstrom of irrelevancy, a relentless vortex fed
by the fetid stench of our shocking ineptitude, when we keep making the
same idiotic, reader-unfriendly mistakes? Today is a case in point, in
our very own newspaper, where, as any moderately talented journalism
student would understand, the photo at the top of page 12F should have
been cropped one-sixteenth of an inch lower so that …

What? Oh, sorry. Been reading too many critiques.

Listen, I left my house at 10 a.m. this morning and went in search of
anything within walking distance that I could purchase for 35 cents or
less. (I live in downtown DC, across from Eastern Market, so this wasn’t
an empty exercise.) I just got back, and I have my purchases arrayed on
the table before me. They are:

A slice of liverwurst; a cardboard container of cole slaw the size of a
shot glass; a two-inch strip of turkey jerky; an underripe singlet
banana; a raw chicken gizzard; an age- wrinkled cucumber (“Still good
for pickling!”) and The Washington Post of Nov. 2, 2005, which contains
the following:

1. A story by Dana Priest disclosing the existence of a shadowy web of
U.S.-run prisoner interrogation camps so secret that it will surprise
some of the most powerful people in this country and the world. This
story is so potentially explosive that we actually aren’t telling
everything we know, for the sake of world peace.

2. A food-section recipe for shittake mushroom chicken ravioli that, I
am reliably informed (wife), is “absolutely intriguing.”

3. A rafter-shaking, gauntlet-tossing column by the fearless Courtland
Milloy in which he attempts to shame and infuriate and catalyze into
civic involvement the entire student body of Howard University. And it’s
so antagonistic and correct it just may work.

4. The op-ed headline “President Pushover,” which says brilliantly in
two words what David Broder then nails in 600 with the sort of calm,
indisputable authority that can be achieved only by, well, David Broder
of the Washington Post.

5. An “In the Loop” column in which Al Kamen discloses that the
Department of Homeland Security has bought an $87,000 shredder capable
of dispatching 1,400 pounds of paper per hour.

6. The following unforgettable sentence, contained in a Style piece by
Robin Givhan about the Royal Couple’s visit to New York: “If anyone was
pressed to offer an opinion of Camilla, he or she either reiterated a
few pleasantries or stared at the questioner in a quiet state of alarm.”

And so forth.

I would like to suggest that if this particular product is not selling the way we wish it to, and if the future looks bleak to us, it bespeaks a failure of imagination in the field of marketing. The Washington Post–print edition–may be an atavism, an ancient technology, but so is the doorknob. If we cannot persuade the public that this remains the single greatest bargain on Earth, we need to rethink the way we sell ourselves. And I’m not talking about “rails.” I’m talking about salesmen, selling the CONCEPT of a great newspaper in new and
provocative ways.

We are a newspaper that has been getting better and better, in large
ways and small, year by year. When I was new at The Post, back in 1991,
I was invited to address the editors at Pugwash. The topic I chose was
how The Post was too boring, and I prepared a funny slide show.
Afterward, everyone agreed that it was just a marvelous presentation,
and a valuable way to look at ourselves constructively through the
healthful prism of humor, and I shared many laughs about it with
colleagues roughly five years later, when people started talking to me
again. I don’t recall everything about my presentation, but I do
remember that I noted that, far too often, the most interesting and
grabbing piece in the paper was a National Brief. That was because the
Post applied different standards to National Briefs — they didn’t have
to be important, just interesting, and I suggested that we needed to
apply this criterion more often.

We do that, now (I claim no credit at all – these changes were already
in the works in 1991, and if anything, the joyful hostility in my little
slide show may well have delayed them.) The point is, today, it is no
surprise to see on A1 a perfectly delightful piece like today’s by Mary
Jordan, on the Brits’ new citizenship exam. It had nothing going for it,
except that it was just a terrific read.

I’m in no mood to pick fights today, but I cannot forbear raising here
the single, dominant issue that befouls and discredits The Washington
Post. It is a daily error of grotesque proportions that must be
rectified if we are to truly consider ourselves a great American
newspaper. The best way to explain this is to recall one of my favorite
Style Invitational entries of all time. The challenge was to come up
with a really, really bad pickup line for a guy to use in a bar. The
winning entry was: “Hi! I work at the Washington Post! I am the guy who
moved Dilbert to the Business section!”

This horror must end. I read the comics for a living, and I often forget
to read Dilbert, because Business is simply not one of my must-reads.
Nor will it ever be, merely because Dilbert is there. In fact, every
time I remember to open Business simply to SEE Dilbert, I feel a wave of
resentment at being manipulated, and I resolve that I will not read a
word of the rest of the damn section even if contains a story about my
own pending indictment. Our comics page carries too many lousy comics;
it can’t afford not to carry a truly good one.

Other than that, I’m high on The Post, and in no mood to nitpick. But
some nitpickery seems to be de rigueur in this format, so let me raise
just three minor points.

1. That fabulous Givhan story took too long getting started. I almost
gave up on it before the jump, which would have been a tragedy. The top
was fine, but it was mostly dutiful reportage, and it was only because I
know Robin’s writing (and was doing this critique) that I hung on. The
bottom of that story was absolutely fabulous, as they say.

2. A brickbat to the Elizabethan-tongued copyeditor who wrote this
headline: “DeLay Loath to Doff His Leadership Hat.” Forsooth, I say.

3. The (unintentionally) funniest story today was on B2, about a
graffito found in Charles County that “included a word sometimes used
pejoratively about black people.” The story then added that it was
possible this word referred only to Halloween. Out of delicacy,
presumably, we declined to specify the middlin’ epithet in question.
This resulted in what was, in my opinion, a totally ridiculous but
highly entertaining story. After a full hour debate, my wife finally
figured out what the word must be, which made us laugh even more. This
story was a silly mistake. Simply not a story. In my opinion.

Still with me? This already-long critique is about to get longer,
because of a promise I made to readers in my online chat yesterday. Feel
free to stop reading whenever you wish. (See, that is the joy of a
newspaper! You only read what you want! No, we do not need shorter stories.)

In my chat, anticipating this critique, I conducted a poll of readers
about their views of The Washington Post (both print and online
editions.) It had three age splits. The poll, of course, was strongly
slanted to online readers (something like 70 percent of the chat
audience is from outside our circulation area.) You can link to the poll
here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2005/10/26/DI2005102600581.html

but I can summarize what I see as the two headlines. (As of this
morning, more than 3,000 people had responded) [Editors note: because
there is a hyphen in the middle of the link, Word insisted on making the
link two lines, but the link above should work as written, it did for
me. jlr]:

1. Our readers love us. I led with our chin, giving people a smorgasbord
of familiar options for what they find wrong with The Post (bad
graphics, long/boring stories, politically slanted, bad writing, etc.)
but the most overwhelming choice, across all age groups, was “None of
these is serious enough to constitute a significant flaw.” All age
groups chose The Post (and other newspapers) as the news source they
would be least willing to give up.

2. Even in this Web-skewed poll, it is clear, and comes as no surprise,
that people under 30 read us far more often online than in print. What
is also clear, however, is that these are among our most loyal and
appreciative readers.

I also invited readers to send in their critiques of today’s Post and
promised them that I would excerpt some of their best observations. I
didn’t expect a particularly large response because I also gave them a
9:45 a.m. deadline. As of seven o’clock this morning, however, I had 12
thoughtful responses. It is now 9:45, and there are more than 50. I am
paring them ruthlessly.

The best of their comments follows, but only after I make one more
observation of my own. I note from msgpost that also scheduled to submit a critique today is “Bzdekv.” I just want the powers that be at The Post to know that we writers are on to their little game. I have never met
Mr. Bzdekv, nor, I think, am I ever likely to. Obviously, “Bzdekv” is a
fiction, a corporate “house name” used by The Post to subtly advance its
agenda under the guise of self-appraisal. Could you guys have been any
MORE obvious? Why not “Mr. Mxyzptlk” while you’re at it? ——–

The five surviving reader critiques follow. I find myself in strong
agreement with the first two:

I personally find The Post’s recent policy of printing supposed
rationales for the use of anoymous sources rather ridiculous. More often
than not, the “rationale” does nothing to explain either the true reason
(almost always fear of something) why the source would not want their
identity disclosed, and often it is just a non sequitur put in
apposition to the fact of anonymity; in some cases, moreover, there is
no rationale given at all, lending the entire exercise an air of futile
arbitrariness.

Presumably, the reason that The Post is attempting to explain the
rationale for the anonymity is to allow readers to make the judgment for
themselves as to the trustworthiness of those sources given their
possible motivations; by , but by just allowing reporters to pay a
half-assed lip service to that goal, all that is accomplished is the
wasting of column inches/screen space. An example from today’s paper:

” Malek’s group, which since 1999 has been at the forefront of local
efforts to bring a baseball team back to Washington, has in recent
months sought to keep as low a profile as possible to protect what it
once thought was its favored status and deflect criticism that it was
campaigning against rival groups, according to people close to the Malek
group, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale was at a
sensitive stage.”

“[T]he sale was at a sensitive stage” just isn’t a rationale, because it
doesn’t address how the anonymity changes the scenario. Were these
sources afraid that identifying themselves would somehow refocus
unwanted attention on the group in a way that cooperating anonymously
wouldn’t do? Were the sources aware that their cooperation (whether
anonymous or not) was likely to refocus that attention, and were
requesting anonymity out of a fear of reprisal? Those are the sorts of
distinctions that are needed to let a reader make a judgment about the
source, and perhaps more importantly to show that the reporter has done
their due diligence to make sure that the information is actually
newsworthy.

(Sweth Chandramouli, Alexandria)

———-
CONVERT BREAKS: __default__

GENE WEINGARTEN, Staff Writer, Magazine

How can we still wonder why our profession is swirling counterclockwise
down the toilet in a maelstrom of irrelevancy, a relentless vortex fed
by the fetid stench of our shocking ineptitude, when we keep making the
same idiotic, reader-unfriendly mistakes? Today is a case in point, in
our very own newspaper, where, as any moderately talented journalism
student would understand, the photo at the top of page 12F should have
been cropped one-sixteenth of an inch lower so that …

What? Oh, sorry. Been reading too many critiques.

Listen, I left my house at 10 a.m. this morning and went in search of
anything within walking distance that I could purchase for 35 cents or
less. (I live in downtown DC, across from Eastern Market, so this wasn’t
an empty exercise.) I just got back, and I have my purchases arrayed on
the table before me. They are:

A slice of liverwurst; a cardboard container of cole slaw the size of a
shot glass; a two-inch strip of turkey jerky; an underripe singlet
banana; a raw chicken gizzard; an age- wrinkled cucumber (“Still good
for pickling!”) and The Washington Post of Nov. 2, 2005, which contains
the following:

1. A story by Dana Priest disclosing the existence of a shadowy web of
U.S.-run prisoner interrogation camps so secret that it will surprise
some of the most powerful people in this country and the world. This
story is so potentially explosive that we actually aren’t telling
everything we know, for the sake of world peace.

2. A food-section recipe for shittake mushroom chicken ravioli that, I
am reliably informed (wife), is “absolutely intriguing.”

3. A rafter-shaking, gauntlet-tossing column by the fearless Courtland
Milloy in which he attempts to shame and infuriate and catalyze into
civic involvement the entire student body of Howard University. And it’s
so antagonistic and correct it just may work.

4. The op-ed headline “President Pushover,” which says brilliantly in
two words what David Broder then nails in 600 with the sort of calm,
indisputable authority that can be achieved only by, well, David Broder
of the Washington Post.

5. An “In the Loop” column in which Al Kamen discloses that the
Department of Homeland Security has bought an $87,000 shredder capable
of dispatching 1,400 pounds of paper per hour.

6. The following unforgettable sentence, contained in a Style piece by
Robin Givhan about the Royal Couple’s visit to New York: “If anyone was
pressed to offer an opinion of Camilla, he or she either reiterated a
few pleasantries or stared at the questioner in a quiet state of alarm.”

And so forth.

I would like to suggest that if this particular product is not selling the way we wish it to, and if the future looks bleak to us, it bespeaks a failure of imagination in the field of marketing. The Washington Post–print edition–may be an atavism, an ancient technology, but so is the doorknob. If we cannot persuade the public that this remains the single greatest bargain on Earth, we need to rethink the way we sell ourselves. And I’m not talking about “rails.” I’m talking about salesmen, selling the CONCEPT of a great newspaper in new and
provocative ways.

We are a newspaper that has been getting better and better, in large
ways and small, year by year. When I was new at The Post, back in 1991,
I was invited to address the editors at Pugwash. The topic I chose was
how The Post was too boring, and I prepared a funny slide show.
Afterward, everyone agreed that it was just a marvelous presentation,
and a valuable way to look at ourselves constructively through the
healthful prism of humor, and I shared many laughs about it with
colleagues roughly five years later, when people started talking to me
again. I don’t recall everything about my presentation, but I do
remember that I noted that, far too often, the most interesting and
grabbing piece in the paper was a National Brief. That was because the
Post applied different standards to National Briefs — they didn’t have
to be important, just interesting, and I suggested that we needed to
apply this criterion more often.

We do that, now (I claim no credit at all – these changes were already
in the works in 1991, and if anything, the joyful hostility in my little
slide show may well have delayed them.) The point is, today, it is no
surprise to see on A1 a perfectly delightful piece like today’s by Mary
Jordan, on the Brits’ new citizenship exam. It had nothing going for it,
except that it was just a terrific read.

I’m in no mood to pick fights today, but I cannot forbear raising here
the single, dominant issue that befouls and discredits The Washington
Post. It is a daily error of grotesque proportions that must be
rectified if we are to truly consider ourselves a great American
newspaper. The best way to explain this is to recall one of my favorite
Style Invitational entries of all time. The challenge was to come up
with a really, really bad pickup line for a guy to use in a bar. The
winning entry was: “Hi! I work at the Washington Post! I am the guy who
moved Dilbert to the Business section!”

This horror must end. I read the comics for a living, and I often forget
to read Dilbert, because Business is simply not one of my must-reads.
Nor will it ever be, merely because Dilbert is there. In fact, every
time I remember to open Business simply to SEE Dilbert, I feel a wave of
resentment at being manipulated, and I resolve that I will not read a
word of the rest of the damn section even if contains a story about my
own pending indictment. Our comics page carries too many lousy comics;
it can’t afford not to carry a truly good one.

Other than that, I’m high on The Post, and in no mood to nitpick. But
some nitpickery seems to be de rigueur in this format, so let me raise
just three minor points.

1. That fabulous Givhan story took too long getting started. I almost
gave up on it before the jump, which would have been a tragedy. The top
was fine, but it was mostly dutiful reportage, and it was only because I
know Robin’s writing (and was doing this critique) that I hung on. The
bottom of that story was absolutely fabulous, as they say.

2. A brickbat to the Elizabethan-tongued copyeditor who wrote this
headline: “DeLay Loath to Doff His Leadership Hat.” Forsooth, I say.

3. The (unintentionally) funniest story today was on B2, about a
graffito found in Charles County that “included a word sometimes used
pejoratively about black people.” The story then added that it was
possible this word referred only to Halloween. Out of delicacy,
presumably, we declined to specify the middlin’ epithet in question.
This resulted in what was, in my opinion, a totally ridiculous but
highly entertaining story. After a full hour debate, my wife finally
figured out what the word must be, which made us laugh even more. This
story was a silly mistake. Simply not a story. In my opinion.

Still with me? This already-long critique is about to get longer,
because of a promise I made to readers in my online chat yesterday. Feel
free to stop reading whenever you wish. (See, that is the joy of a
newspaper! You only read what you want! No, we do not need shorter stories.)

In my chat, anticipating this critique, I conducted a poll of readers
about their views of The Washington Post (both print and online
editions.) It had three age splits. The poll, of course, was strongly
slanted to online readers (something like 70 percent of the chat
audience is from outside our circulation area.) You can link to the poll
here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2005/10/26/DI2005102600581.html

but I can summarize what I see as the two headlines. (As of this
morning, more than 3,000 people had responded) [Editors note: because
there is a hyphen in the middle of the link, Word insisted on making the
link two lines, but the link above should work as written, it did for
me. jlr]:

1. Our readers love us. I led with our chin, giving people a smorgasbord
of familiar options for what they find wrong with The Post (bad
graphics, long/boring stories, politically slanted, bad writing, etc.)
but the most overwhelming choice, across all age groups, was “None of
these is serious enough to constitute a significant flaw.” All age
groups chose The Post (and other newspapers) as the news source they
would be least willing to give up.

2. Even in this Web-skewed poll, it is clear, and comes as no surprise,
that people under 30 read us far more often online than in print. What
is also clear, however, is that these are among our most loyal and
appreciative readers.

I also invited readers to send in their critiques of today’s Post and
promised them that I would excerpt some of their best observations. I
didn’t expect a particularly large response because I also gave them a
9:45 a.m. deadline. As of seven o’clock this morning, however, I had 12
thoughtful responses. It is now 9:45, and there are more than 50. I am
paring them ruthlessly.

The best of their comments follows, but only after I make one more
observation of my own. I note from msgpost that also scheduled to submit a critique today is “Bzdekv.” I just want the powers that be at The Post to know that we writers are on to their little game. I have never met
Mr. Bzdekv, nor, I think, am I ever likely to. Obviously, “Bzdekv” is a
fiction, a corporate “house name” used by The Post to subtly advance its
agenda under the guise of self-appraisal. Could you guys have been any
MORE obvious? Why not “Mr. Mxyzptlk” while you’re at it? ——–

The five surviving reader critiques follow. I find myself in strong
agreement with the first two:

I personally find The Post’s recent policy of printing supposed
rationales for the use of anoymous sources rather ridiculous. More often
than not, the “rationale” does nothing to explain either the true reason
(almost always fear of something) why the source would not want their
identity disclosed, and often it is just a non sequitur put in
apposition to the fact of anonymity; in some cases, moreover, there is
no rationale given at all, lending the entire exercise an air of futile
arbitrariness.

Presumably, the reason that The Post is attempting to explain the
rationale for the anonymity is to allow readers to make the judgment for
themselves as to the trustworthiness of those sources given their
possible motivations; by , but by just allowing reporters to pay a
half-assed lip service to that goal, all that is accomplished is the
wasting of column inches/screen space. An example from today’s paper:

” Malek’s group, which since 1999 has been at the forefront of local
efforts to bring a baseball team back to Washington, has in recent
months sought to keep as low a profile as possible to protect what it
once thought was its favored status and deflect criticism that it was
campaigning against rival groups, according to people close to the Malek
group, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale was at a
sensitive stage.”

“[T]he sale was at a sensitive stage” just isn’t a rationale, because it
doesn’t address how the anonymity changes the scenario. Were these
sources afraid that identifying themselves would somehow refocus
unwanted attention on the group in a way that cooperating anonymously
wouldn’t do? Were the sources aware that their cooperation (whether
anonymous or not) was likely to refocus that attention, and were
requesting anonymity out of a fear of reprisal? Those are the sorts of
distinctions that are needed to let a reader make a judgment about the
source, and perhaps more importantly to show that the reporter has done
their due diligence to make sure that the information is actually
newsworthy.

(Sweth Chandramouli, Alexandria)

———-

I am a Pisces. My horoscope today tells me: “PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20).
You’ll wisely work harder on yourself than you will on any project or
job. Personal development pays off in unforeseen ways. Being
well-rounded will allow you to talk with just about anyone, and this
leads to great opportunity.”

What a load of bollocks.

The Post should be ashamed of itself allowing this inane, pointless
drivel in the paper day in day out. Not only are the horoscopes a waste
of valuable space that could otherwise be used for something informative
(even an ad would contain actual information about something and
therefore be more useful) but I think running them is actually harmful
and in violation of the Post’s otherwise strong adherence to serving the
community. Many people (and as a child I was one of them) assume that
there must be some factual basis for astrology because, after all, they
wouldn’t put it in the newspaper otherwise. There is no factual basis
for astrology. Even Dave Barry is required to make it clear when he is,
and is not, making stuff up. If you insist upon continuing to run these
monstrosities on the grounds that “people like them, read them and would
be upset if they were removed” couldn’t you at least do a feature on how
these predictions are arrived at, compare different papers’ respective
horoscopes and look into the question whether any of them display any
hint of acuracy? Well no, I suppose you couldn’t because such an expose
would make it clear what we all know anyway which is that the horoscopes
are just a space filler that some people take a little too seriously.
But that’s a problem, no?”

(Karin Robinson, London, England)

————
CONVERT BREAKS: __default__

GENE WEINGARTEN, Staff Writer, Magazine

How can we still wonder why our profession is swirling counterclockwise
down the toilet in a maelstrom of irrelevancy, a relentless vortex fed
by the fetid stench of our shocking ineptitude, when we keep making the
same idiotic, reader-unfriendly mistakes? Today is a case in point, in
our very own newspaper, where, as any moderately talented journalism
student would understand, the photo at the top of page 12F should have
been cropped one-sixteenth of an inch lower so that …

What? Oh, sorry. Been reading too many critiques.

Listen, I left my house at 10 a.m. this morning and went in search of
anything within walking distance that I could purchase for 35 cents or
less. (I live in downtown DC, across from Eastern Market, so this wasn’t
an empty exercise.) I just got back, and I have my purchases arrayed on
the table before me. They are:

A slice of liverwurst; a cardboard container of cole slaw the size of a
shot glass; a two-inch strip of turkey jerky; an underripe singlet
banana; a raw chicken gizzard; an age- wrinkled cucumber (“Still good
for pickling!”) and The Washington Post of Nov. 2, 2005, which contains
the following:

1. A story by Dana Priest disclosing the existence of a shadowy web of
U.S.-run prisoner interrogation camps so secret that it will surprise
some of the most powerful people in this country and the world. This
story is so potentially explosive that we actually aren’t telling
everything we know, for the sake of world peace.

2. A food-section recipe for shittake mushroom chicken ravioli that, I
am reliably informed (wife), is “absolutely intriguing.”

3. A rafter-shaking, gauntlet-tossing column by the fearless Courtland
Milloy in which he attempts to shame and infuriate and catalyze into
civic involvement the entire student body of Howard University. And it’s
so antagonistic and correct it just may work.

4. The op-ed headline “President Pushover,” which says brilliantly in
two words what David Broder then nails in 600 with the sort of calm,
indisputable authority that can be achieved only by, well, David Broder
of the Washington Post.

5. An “In the Loop” column in which Al Kamen discloses that the
Department of Homeland Security has bought an $87,000 shredder capable
of dispatching 1,400 pounds of paper per hour.

6. The following unforgettable sentence, contained in a Style piece by
Robin Givhan about the Royal Couple’s visit to New York: “If anyone was
pressed to offer an opinion of Camilla, he or she either reiterated a
few pleasantries or stared at the questioner in a quiet state of alarm.”

And so forth.

I would like to suggest that if this particular product is not selling the way we wish it to, and if the future looks bleak to us, it bespeaks a failure of imagination in the field of marketing. The Washington Post–print edition–may be an atavism, an ancient technology, but so is the doorknob. If we cannot persuade the public that this remains the single greatest bargain on Earth, we need to rethink the way we sell ourselves. And I’m not talking about “rails.” I’m talking about salesmen, selling the CONCEPT of a great newspaper in new and
provocative ways.

We are a newspaper that has been getting better and better, in large
ways and small, year by year. When I was new at The Post, back in 1991,
I was invited to address the editors at Pugwash. The topic I chose was
how The Post was too boring, and I prepared a funny slide show.
Afterward, everyone agreed that it was just a marvelous presentation,
and a valuable way to look at ourselves constructively through the
healthful prism of humor, and I shared many laughs about it with
colleagues roughly five years later, when people started talking to me
again. I don’t recall everything about my presentation, but I do
remember that I noted that, far too often, the most interesting and
grabbing piece in the paper was a National Brief. That was because the
Post applied different standards to National Briefs — they didn’t have
to be important, just interesting, and I suggested that we needed to
apply this criterion more often.

We do that, now (I claim no credit at all – these changes were already
in the works in 1991, and if anything, the joyful hostility in my little
slide show may well have delayed them.) The point is, today, it is no
surprise to see on A1 a perfectly delightful piece like today’s by Mary
Jordan, on the Brits’ new citizenship exam. It had nothing going for it,
except that it was just a terrific read.

I’m in no mood to pick fights today, but I cannot forbear raising here
the single, dominant issue that befouls and discredits The Washington
Post. It is a daily error of grotesque proportions that must be
rectified if we are to truly consider ourselves a great American
newspaper. The best way to explain this is to recall one of my favorite
Style Invitational entries of all time. The challenge was to come up
with a really, really bad pickup line for a guy to use in a bar. The
winning entry was: “Hi! I work at the Washington Post! I am the guy who
moved Dilbert to the Business section!”

This horror must end. I read the comics for a living, and I often forget
to read Dilbert, because Business is simply not one of my must-reads.
Nor will it ever be, merely because Dilbert is there. In fact, every
time I remember to open Business simply to SEE Dilbert, I feel a wave of
resentment at being manipulated, and I resolve that I will not read a
word of the rest of the damn section even if contains a story about my
own pending indictment. Our comics page carries too many lousy comics;
it can’t afford not to carry a truly good one.

Other than that, I’m high on The Post, and in no mood to nitpick. But
some nitpickery seems to be de rigueur in this format, so let me raise
just three minor points.

1. That fabulous Givhan story took too long getting started. I almost
gave up on it before the jump, which would have been a tragedy. The top
was fine, but it was mostly dutiful reportage, and it was only because I
know Robin’s writing (and was doing this critique) that I hung on. The
bottom of that story was absolutely fabulous, as they say.

2. A brickbat to the Elizabethan-tongued copyeditor who wrote this
headline: “DeLay Loath to Doff His Leadership Hat.” Forsooth, I say.

3. The (unintentionally) funniest story today was on B2, about a
graffito found in Charles County that “included a word sometimes used
pejoratively about black people.” The story then added that it was
possible this word referred only to Halloween. Out of delicacy,
presumably, we declined to specify the middlin’ epithet in question.
This resulted in what was, in my opinion, a totally ridiculous but
highly entertaining story. After a full hour debate, my wife finally
figured out what the word must be, which made us laugh even more. This
story was a silly mistake. Simply not a story. In my opinion.

Still with me? This already-long critique is about to get longer,
because of a promise I made to readers in my online chat yesterday. Feel
free to stop reading whenever you wish. (See, that is the joy of a
newspaper! You only read what you want! No, we do not need shorter stories.)

In my chat, anticipating this critique, I conducted a poll of readers
about their views of The Washington Post (both print and online
editions.) It had three age splits. The poll, of course, was strongly
slanted to online readers (something like 70 percent of the chat
audience is from outside our circulation area.) You can link to the poll
here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2005/10/26/DI2005102600581.html

but I can summarize what I see as the two headlines. (As of this
morning, more than 3,000 people had responded) [Editors note: because
there is a hyphen in the middle of the link, Word insisted on making the
link two lines, but the link above should work as written, it did for
me. jlr]:

1. Our readers love us. I led with our chin, giving people a smorgasbord
of familiar options for what they find wrong with The Post (bad
graphics, long/boring stories, politically slanted, bad writing, etc.)
but the most overwhelming choice, across all age groups, was “None of
these is serious enough to constitute a significant flaw.” All age
groups chose The Post (and other newspapers) as the news source they
would be least willing to give up.

2. Even in this Web-skewed poll, it is clear, and comes as no surprise,
that people under 30 read us far more often online than in print. What
is also clear, however, is that these are among our most loyal and
appreciative readers.

I also invited readers to send in their critiques of today’s Post and
promised them that I would excerpt some of their best observations. I
didn’t expect a particularly large response because I also gave them a
9:45 a.m. deadline. As of seven o’clock this morning, however, I had 12
thoughtful responses. It is now 9:45, and there are more than 50. I am
paring them ruthlessly.

The best of their comments follows, but only after I make one more
observation of my own. I note from msgpost that also scheduled to submit a critique today is “Bzdekv.” I just want the powers that be at The Post to know that we writers are on to their little game. I have never met
Mr. Bzdekv, nor, I think, am I ever likely to. Obviously, “Bzdekv” is a
fiction, a corporate “house name” used by The Post to subtly advance its
agenda under the guise of self-appraisal. Could you guys have been any
MORE obvious? Why not “Mr. Mxyzptlk” while you’re at it? ——–

The five surviving reader critiques follow. I find myself in strong
agreement with the first two:

I personally find The Post’s recent policy of printing supposed
rationales for the use of anoymous sources rather ridiculous. More often
than not, the “rationale” does nothing to explain either the true reason
(almost always fear of something) why the source would not want their
identity disclosed, and often it is just a non sequitur put in
apposition to the fact of anonymity; in some cases, moreover, there is
no rationale given at all, lending the entire exercise an air of futile
arbitrariness.

Presumably, the reason that The Post is attempting to explain the
rationale for the anonymity is to allow readers to make the judgment for
themselves as to the trustworthiness of those sources given their
possible motivations; by , but by just allowing reporters to pay a
half-assed lip service to that goal, all that is accomplished is the
wasting of column inches/screen space. An example from today’s paper:

” Malek’s group, which since 1999 has been at the forefront of local
efforts to bring a baseball team back to Washington, has in recent
months sought to keep as low a profile as possible to protect what it
once thought was its favored status and deflect criticism that it was
campaigning against rival groups, according to people close to the Malek
group, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale was at a
sensitive stage.”

“[T]he sale was at a sensitive stage” just isn’t a rationale, because it
doesn’t address how the anonymity changes the scenario. Were these
sources afraid that identifying themselves would somehow refocus
unwanted attention on the group in a way that cooperating anonymously
wouldn’t do? Were the sources aware that their cooperation (whether
anonymous or not) was likely to refocus that attention, and were
requesting anonymity out of a fear of reprisal? Those are the sorts of
distinctions that are needed to let a reader make a judgment about the
source, and perhaps more importantly to show that the reporter has done
their due diligence to make sure that the information is actually
newsworthy.

(Sweth Chandramouli, Alexandria)

———-

I am a Pisces. My horoscope today tells me: “PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20).
You’ll wisely work harder on yourself than you will on any project or
job. Personal development pays off in unforeseen ways. Being
well-rounded will allow you to talk with just about anyone, and this
leads to great opportunity.”

What a load of bollocks.

The Post should be ashamed of itself allowing this inane, pointless
drivel in the paper day in day out. Not only are the horoscopes a waste
of valuable space that could otherwise be used for something informative
(even an ad would contain actual information about something and
therefore be more useful) but I think running them is actually harmful
and in violation of the Post’s otherwise strong adherence to serving the
community. Many people (and as a child I was one of them) assume that
there must be some factual basis for astrology because, after all, they
wouldn’t put it in the newspaper otherwise. There is no factual basis
for astrology. Even Dave Barry is required to make it clear when he is,
and is not, making stuff up. If you insist upon continuing to run these
monstrosities on the grounds that “people like them, read them and would
be upset if they were removed” couldn’t you at least do a feature on how
these predictions are arrived at, compare different papers’ respective
horoscopes and look into the question whether any of them display any
hint of acuracy? Well no, I suppose you couldn’t because such an expose
would make it clear what we all know anyway which is that the horoscopes
are just a space filler that some people take a little too seriously.
But that’s a problem, no?”

(Karin Robinson, London, England)

————

The Post’s coverage of the Capitals and hockey is woefully insufficient.
I understand and accept that Washington is not a “hockey town,” but that
doesn’t mean that those of us who do follow the sport deserve
second-rate, shoddy, and spotty coverage of the team. Today’s article
about the possible and distant return of Ivan Majesky makes an absurd
claim, calling him “a bona fide top-four defenseman,” which is ludicrous
to anyone who’s paid attention to the sport for more than two or three
years. This is illustrative of the Post’s approach to hockey coverage in
general: Stick a good reporter on the beat, let him make his bones on a
job analogous to covering high school track, and then move him to a more
plum assignment. For an example, see the 2002-2003 work of Jason La
Canfora. He was very, very good and was rewarded with the Redskins beat.
I understand column inches cost money and need to be justified by an
ability to generate printed ad revenue. Where’s the hockey fans’ e-mail
column like Tom Boswell’s offering for the Nats? Where’s our on-line
only material including a weekly chat? It’s clear that Barry Svrulga,
Dave Sheinin, Tom Boswell, Jason La Canfora, Len Shapiro and the rest of
the Sports section care deeply about their beats and give fantastic
insight. Why can’t hockey fans get the same in a town with a
professional team?

(Matt Hoerig, Alexandria)

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