By James A. Kidney
The Current Picture
Two recent events involving The Washington Post cause me to muse on changes in journalism. First, the Post departed its long-time headquarters building on 15th St., NW, for a less majestic spot on 13th Street. It is at least a symbolic retreat from the glory days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, noted with unusual sentimentality by many Post veterans.
The promotional ad was based on the Post’s claim that it had a bigger overall visitor total – clicks — on its website in October than The New York Times. Post owner Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon.com, claimed that “What we’re doing with the post is we’re working on becoming the new paper of record.”
“Paper of record” was a hallowed term in journalism in the 20th century, always referring to The New York Times due to its diligence in coverage and the detail it often presented, such as full transcripts of important speeches by political leaders and congressional roll calls. As the Times itself noted in a column by its public editor in 2004, there is no record the newspaper ever claimed the title formally, and doubt that even the esteemed Times would have deserved it or its reporters wanted it.
The Post never before dared call itself the “paper of record,” and it doesn’t deserve the appellation now. Although one of the two or three best papers in the country (a bar lowering all the time), the Post closed its domestic bureaus years ago and has a far smaller news staff than the Times. These discrepancies are reflected in the Post’s narrow coverage of national news. The Post national coverage focuses almost exclusively on national politics and the federal government, with the occasional “blockbuster” series designed to win awards. Other national news is relegated to a summary block of text, with a paragraph or two for each item headed by the name of the state where the reported event occurred. It does maintain a good foreign staff, albeit with fewer bureaus than the Times.