Sure, sure: Death and taxes are inevitable. But you can also count on The Washington City Paper’s Erik Wemple to rip on the Post in his Department of Media column.
This week, he takes them to task for removing columns from the front pages of the Business and Metro section, relegating them to the “wildnerness” of the inside pages and replacing them with “rails,” or indexes to what’s inside.
Last week, top Metro editor Robert McCartney informed [Courtland] Milloy and fellow columnists Marc Fisher and Donna Britt that their hallowed space along the spine of Metro’s front page had been annexed. Starting on Dec. 20, wrote McCartney in an internal memo, their columns would appear somewhere else on the front page, their exact placement to be determined by “news value and design needs.” That sounds a lot like the paper’s treatment of Style columnist Tina Brown–namely, about 120 words on the section front, followed by a jump to oblivion. Indeed, the Metro columns that begin on the section’s front page will soon always jump to an inside page, ending the elegance of the one-gulp column that starts at the top of the page and ends at the bottom. In certain editions, the columns might even start in the wilderness of the section’s inside pages.
But the notion that readers are thirsting for a section-by-section guide to the paper’s content is a case of classic Post overkill and a sign that the paper’s circulation losses have begun to drive top editors batty. “I don’t share their views about how this is supposed to help bring readers in,” says Milloy. “I’m not sure what the thinking is on that.”
Says Fisher: “I don’t think there’s a writer on the planet who’d be pleased to be displaced by an index.”
Reporting and design make a paper better, but so do strong hometown personalities (especially ones like Milloy, Fisher, Britt and Business columnist Steven Pearlstein). Both the Metro and Business sections are small enough that a rail would probably be unnecessary…by the time a reader read the index they could have already been at the story. Such a move not only diminishes the visibility of the Post’s great local writers, but also decreases reader interaction. Said Pearlstein: “My e-mail fell off after it happened,” says Pearlstein. “I surely saw the e-mail go off more than a third.”