Last Great Newspaper War : New York Times v Washington Post v Trump?

Last Great Newspaper War

 

Breaking story after story, two great American newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, are resurgent, with record readerships. One has greater global reach and fifth-generation family ownership; the other has Jeff Bezos as its deep-pocketed proprietor and a technological advantage. Both, however, still face an existential foe.

THE MUCK STOPS HERE
Left, Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post; Right, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet.

Last Great Newspaper War

Last Great Newspaper War

It was wheels-up at Joint Base Andrews as Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, settled into the Air Force One press cabin on May 19 at the start of a presidential flight to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Then his cell phone rang with a heads-up from his boss, Washington-bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller, that the paper was about to break a big story: Donald Trump had denounced James Comey—whom he had just fired as F.B.I. director—as a “nut job” during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. He had also told the Russians that Comey’s ouster relieved “great pressure” on him just as the F.B.I. investigation of the Trump campaign and contacts with Russian officials seemed to be gathering momentum.

The airplane was aloft when the two television sets in the aft cabin, both turned to the Fox News channel, flashed bulletins about the story. But moments later, the same TV sets were touting another revelation, this one from The Washington Post—Baker’s alma mater. The Post was reporting that the F.B.I. probe had identified “a current White House official as a significant person of interest.”

“It wasn’t even five minutes,” recalled Baker, who has trouble, like most people, keeping track of the competing PostTimes exclusives about the Trump administration that have dominated the media world for months. Two revived bastions of Old Media are engaged in a duel that resembles the World War II rivalry of American general George S. Patton and British general Sir Bernard Montgomery as they scrambled to be first to capture Messina. There is a sense, too, that something fundamental about the nation is at stake. The Washington Post now proclaims every day in its print and online editions, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

The ongoing tit for tat helps explain the online-traffic records for both newspapers and why they are, more than ever, the tip sheets and storyboards for cable and broadcast news. So the Post discloses that Trump revealed classified information to the Russians; then the Times discloses that Comey memorialized an Oval Office meeting in which the president allegedly pressured him to end the F.B.I.’s investigation into former national-security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials. In headlines, they both question the honesty of Trump, even using the once taboo words “lie” and “lies.” Dean Baquet, theexecutive editor of the Times, traces the use of those words in his newspaper to Trump’s lies about Barack Obama’s place of birth. To have not used them, he told me, “would have been screwing around with the English language.” At the Post, Glenn Kessler’s interactive Fact Checker graphic keeps a tally of Trump’s false and misleading claims as president. (As of late July: 836.) It was a Post story which broke the news that fake Time magazine covers of a pre-presidential Trump (“HITTING ON ALL FRONTS . . . EVEN TV!”) had been hung prominently at some of his resorts. Meanwhile, a Times bombshell revealed that Trump’s son Donald junior, along with campaign chairman Paul Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner, had met, two weeks after Trump’s nomination, with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who was said to be offering dirt on Hillary Clinton—leaving himself open to charges of attempted collusion with a foreign government. Both papers are windows on—and vehicles for—the animus between Trump and the intelligence community, and thus for what Baquet concedes have been unceasing leaks from a Trump-wary bureaucracy. (“Remarkably easy” is how he described some of the reporting.)

If you miss the stories in print or online, reporters from the two newspapers are beckoned for regular cable-news duty. And there’s always Snapchat, Facebook, and other social tools, part of a subterranean war for survival that marries scoops and computer engineering. It is a contest in which the geeks supplement shoe-leather reporting, a contest that both could win or both could lose, given the vagaries of media fragmentation. The two papers are battling amid a dramatic, decade-plus industry free fall. After hitting a high of more than $49 billion in 2006, total newspaper ad revenues nationwide fell to $18 billion in 2016. According to industry analyst Alan Mutter, print circulation has plunged by half. At the Times and the Post, there is talk internally about a world without the print edition.

Call it the Last Great Newspaper War, as two great survivors face off with different strategies and different economic realities but the same audacity; an impressive array of talent; and two highly competitive leaders—Baquet and his counterpart at the Post, Marty Baron (who, says one observer, would “rather beat the Times than eat”). Both papers receive lacerating criticism from the White House almost every day. The underlying passion offers the Internet Age version of The Front Page, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 tribute to an indomitable craft in which editor Walter Burns responds to one reporter’s request to know how much space he has for an exclusive by telling him he wants every goddamn word the reporter can give him.

There are days when you can swear that the Post and the Times are giving you every goddamn word on Trump. The Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” may seem a bit overwrought as a slogan—“like the next Batman movie,” Baquet has said—but crusty Walter Burns would probably pound a table, slam down a candlestick telephone, utter a few choice words, and growl, But it’s true!

The remarkable thing is that, within very recent memory, the resurgence of the Times and the Post seemed hard to imagine. Even harder to imagine was that assistance would come from a boorish blowhard and real-estate developer who decided to enter politics.

Times Staff, from left, Assistant Editor (oversees graphics and interactive news) Steve Duenes; Editorial Director of the News Desk Caroline Que; Assistant Editor Sam Dolnick; Editorial Director, Books Radhika Jones; Books Editor Pamela Paul; Business Editor Ellen Pollock; Managing Editor Joseph Kahn; Deputy Managing Editor Rebecca Blumenstein; Deputy Managing Editor Matthew Purdy; Chief Technology Officer Nick Rockwell; Health Editor Celia Dugger; Editor, The New York Times Magazine Jake Silverstein; Editor of the News Desk Michael Owen; Assistant Editor (oversees investigations) Rebecca Corbett; Food Editor Sam Sifton; Deputy Publisher A.G. Sulzberger; Sports Editor Jason Stallman; International Editor Michael Slackman; National Editor Marc Lacey; Travel Editor Monica Drake; Assistant Editor Alison Mitchell; Culture Editor Danielle Mattoon; Deputy Managing Editor Clifford Levy; Standards Editor Phil Corbett; Senior VP, Data and Insights Laura Evans; Deputy Graphics Archie Tse; Host of The Daily Michael Barbaro; Executive Producer for Audio Lisa Tobin.

Photograph by Franco Pagetti.

II. FAREWELL TO FAREWELLS

Twenty years ago I sat in the spacious Georgetown home of Katharine Grahamand brought up a bit of history that is unknown to most, perhaps all, Postemployees these days. Nobody I broached it with at the Post this summer had a clue. Back in the 1940s, one of the great figures in the newspaper industry was Eleanor Medill (Cissy) Patterson, first cousin of the fabled Chicago Tribune owner Colonel Robert R. McCormick. Patterson owned and edited the conservative Washington Times-Herald and was the nation’s only big-time female newspaper publisher. An Auntie Mame-like figure with a flamboyant lifestyle, she feuded publicly with the far smaller Washington Post, which was owned by Graham’s father, Eugene Meyer. When Patterson died, in 1948, the Meyer family desperately wanted to get its hands on her newspaper.

“I thought at times our lives depended on it,” Graham told me that day. But they didn’t get it, because McCormick himself swooped in to buy the newspaper and install his 28-year-old niece, Ruth Elizabeth (Bazy) McCormick Miller, as the publisher. The daughter of two former Illinois members of Congress, she loved the job and was a high-profile and politically conservative leader. Graham recalled being captivated as a young woman by Colonel McCormick during a party at the Connecticut estate of the Sulzbergers, owners of The New York Times. She had watched him arrive in a helicopter emblazoned with the words “World’s Greatest Newspaper”—the Chicago Tribune’s slogan.

What she wasn’t so upbeat about years later was McCormick’s buying the Times-Heraldand, as she wrote in her memoir, leaving her husband, Philip Graham, “in a great despond.” Ultimately, though, McCormick did part with his paper, and the reason was an affair. Bazy Miller, who was married, had fallen in love with Garvin (Tank) Tankersley, an editor at the Times-Herald. McCormick, outraged, told her to choose between Tankersley and her job. She followed her heart. McCormick sold the newspaper, and under Meyer the combined entity, with the Post’s name on top, prospered as a great, ideologically liberal local voice. Kay Graham’s own story became journalism lore: the generally timid child of a privileged, if dysfunctional, home who married a brilliant but troubled Harvard Law graduate, who himself raised the company’s game as the charismatic leader picked by her dad. After her husband’s death (a suicide, at age 48), Kay Graham took over and made a storied transition to being publisher and head of the company, with the great help of editor Ben Bradlee, an aggressive, fearless, and theatrical newsroom leader. Graham proved a tower of strength during the fight by the Post and the Times to publish the Pentagon Papers—the secret history of the Vietnam War—resulting in a landmark 1971 Supreme Court victory. Just as telling was Graham and Bradlee’s nerve in backing the Bob Woodward-Carl Bernstein investigation into the Watergate scandal.

All the while, she oversaw the company’s evolution into a modern media enterprise, led by the Post but including Newsweek and highly profitable television stations. If the Times was the national organ for a news-consuming elite, the Post was not far behind as the clear leader among a small pack of superb regional newspapers. It was a magnet for and a breeder of exceptional talent—two generations of great political writers, including David Broder, Haynes Johnson, David Maraniss, and Thomas B. Edsall. Its political coverage was matched by other areas of the paper, notably first-class foreign and national bureaus as well as a features section, “Style,” that was a de facto magazine with, on its best days, the élan of the old Esquire.

By 1993 the paper’s daily circulation was more than 830,000. The newspaper industry seemed flush, even as storm clouds could be discerned in the distance, with television luring away more advertising and the Internet not far off. That year’s big industry deal was the New York Times Company’s purchase of The Boston Globe, for $1.1 billion. At the Post, the newsroom payroll had more than 900 people.

Donald Graham succeeded his mother and maintained a steady course, leading the Washington Post Company as chairman but later handing the publishing duties to Katharine Weymouth, his niece. She hired a new editor, Marcus Brauchli, from The Wall Street Journal, to replace Bradlee’s successor, Leonard Downie Jr., and when that didn’t work out, she lured Marty Baron from The Boston Globe. There, Baron had dealt with painful downsizing. A longtime friend, Doug Frantz, who has worked for both Baron and Baquet, recalled Baron being “frustrated and at times angry” with the Times Company about the cuts and layoffs. But Baron stuck it out and maintained high standards—symbolized by a nervy investigation into child abuse by Catholic priests that would inspire the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight.

At the Post, Baron inherited a failed strategy to focus on local and regional news (eliminating many national and foreign bureaus in the process), tensions between the print and digital operations, and a plummeting of both circulation and advertising revenues. By 2013, layoffs and buyouts had brought the Post newsroom staff down to the low 600s. Circulation had dipped to 475,000. Senior politics editor Steven Ginsberg recalls posting a vacancy for the top congressional reporting job—and not a single person applied.

The patrician Donald Graham, proud keeper of tradition, knew the situation was spiraling beyond his control. In 2013, urgently needing cash, the Post announced plans to sell its building. Even its for-profit educational company, Kaplan, whose healthy revenues had long bolstered the Post, began to implode amid a government crackdown on profit-making schools and training programs. The newsroom stopped holding farewell parties on Fridays—they were just too depressing.

All the while, Graham searched for a buyer, then stunned the world by announcing the sale of the Post to Jeff Bezos, the 49-year-old founder of Amazon, for a modest $250 million. Peter Baker, who had gone to the Times, remembers crying over the news. Graham was like a desperate but loving mother placing a newborn in a basket and sticking it on the doorstep of somebody she hoped would clasp it to heart.

III. SINKING FLAGSHIP

In the spring of 2010, I was at a high-top table for two at Shaw’s Crab House, in Chicago, for a luncheon chat with a former crack addict and recovering alcoholic named David Carr. A froggy-voiced New York Times media writer with a pelican neck and Columbo-like manner of inquisition, Carr was pumping me at the start of what would become an investigation into ethical disarray at the Tribune Company, which had been taken over by Sam Zell, a vulgar real-estate billionaire who cared nothing for journalism.

“So you think there’s a story I can get?” he asked. There sure was: poker parties featuring drugs; oral sex in the office; profanity; and various other episodes involving a new hierarchy plucked by Zell from the radio industry. Carr’s investigation—explaining how the Tribune’s buttoned-down culture had been transformed into a moral and ethical freak show—was chronicled in Page One, a 2011 documentary about the Times.

Listening to Carr—“Can you show me where he got the blow job?”—you realized how much the world’s most influential media organization had changed. If you were familiar with the newspaper mainly through The Kingdom and the Power, Gay Talese’s loving and unsparing1969 history, it would be difficult to visualize the Times employing a character as idiosyncratic as Carr, much less holding him up as the embodiment of the institution. This was a place whose Washington bureau was once populated by a species of journalist Talese described as lean, tall, tweedy, well educated, and, in at least one instance, given to wearing bow ties and smoking a pipe (in homage to the onetime king of their realm, James Reston). But now the Digital Age was here and the newspaper was dramatically more diverse. Carr was not just fearless and perceptive but also a fierce defender of the core values of independence and fairness that now faced economic peril.

“To Give the News Impartially, Without Fear or Favor”: that had been the credo of Timespatriarch Adolph S. Ochs when he arrived from Chattanooga and bought a struggling New York newspaper in 1896—right around the time Donald Trump’s grandfather Friedrich Trump arrived from Germany and made a fortune in the hotel (and prostitution) business in the Klondike. The Times eventually became the world’s most respected media outlet, with a giant newsroom staff of 1,300. The 1980s brought a critical strategic move—branching out with a national edition, for which consumers would pay a relatively hefty sum (in Chicago today, for instance, $2.50 for the daily and $6 on Sunday). That edition proved to be a savior, given tough competition in metro New York.

Then came the Internet, the explosion of cable TV, declining circulations for print, and new options for advertisers. After the 2008 financial crisis, the Times’s future was so uncertain that it sought a $250 million loan from Carlos Slim Helú, a Mexican billionaire and still the largest single shareholder in the company, and engineered a $225 million sale and leaseback of part of its brand-new Manhattan headquarters. By the time I sat down with Carr, media analysts were openly wondering if the Times could survive.

But the ruling Sulzberger clan somehow remained sufficiently cohesive about preserving the core product, even as intergenerational friction (and financial desperation) led to the sale of other family-owned newspaper groups and businesses. As time wore on, the company shed its major media interests, including all of the TV stations, except the flagship newspaper.

Throughout, the newspaper was always the Times, the basis of comparison and envy, and the focus of unavoidably sharp criticism whenever it erred. It struggled, as did every newspaper, with converting to the Digital Age. Some self-inflicted wounds took on industry-wide, even national significance—such as the fabrications by reporter Jayson Blair, who made up stories out of whole cloth and prompted the resignation of executive editor Howell Raines. But during the past decade, under three different executive editors (Bill Keller, Jill Abramson, and Baquet), the paper has won 29 Pulitzer Prizes.

The Times’s commitment to news was never in doubt. But as a business venture, the Timesneeded a recovery on the scale of David Carr’s own transformation from jailed addict to venerated icon.

Top, Post Sunday editor Tim Curran, local editor Mike Semel, design editor Emily Chow, deputy managing editor Scott Vance, senior video producer Deirdra O’Regan, publisher and C.E.O. Frederick J. Ryan Jr., Baron, video planning editor Rhonda Colvin, universal-newsdesk editor Kenisha Malcolm, general-assignment-newsdesk editor J. Freedom du Lac, managing editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, and director (strategic initiatives) Jeremy Gilbert; Bottom, Times deputy managing editor Matthew Purdy, associate editor Dean Murphy, and Baquet.

Photographs by Franco Pagetti.

IV. IT’S A METAPHOR

Marty Baron took his place in the Washington Post newsroom in 2013. His predecessor, Marcus Brauchli, had combined the Washington newsroom and the separate, non-union, Virginia-based digital operations—a crucial step—and begun to alter a print-driven culture. But newsroom leadership can be vexing in hard times, and Brauchli never fully commanded the Post. Baron took charge the day after New Year’s and quickly began to upgrade a weakened political staff whose competition now included a relentless upstart, Politico. Don Graham had taken a pass on the original Politico concept, when brought to him by Post editor John Harris and reporter Jim VandeHei. With another investor they soon launched a site that became addictive for politics junkies. A post-Harris revolving door of political editors ended when Steven Ginsberg took over. Soon came the addition of many others, including Timemagazine’s Karen Tumulty; talented metro reporters like Philip Rucker and David Fahrenthold, who were moved to the politics team; and Robert Costa, a rapidly rising star. In Baron’s first year the paper won two Pulitzer Prizes, including the prestigious public-service medal for a flood-the-zone team project, featuring 28 journalists and led by Barton Gellman, which exposed the National Security Agency’s rampant surveillance program—stories based on leaks by Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who would ultimately take refuge in Russia. Traditional newsrooms are knotty, hierarchical organisms. Baron projected purpose, a fierce sense of support, a steely focus on story quality, and an awareness of how to deal with fragile egos. He has also shown spine in Trump coverage and in the face of unceasing attacks from the White House. The man portrayed by Liev Schreiber in Spotlight comes uncannily close to the mark. Baron has benefited from Hollywood lionization and also from the absence of financial pressures that normally burden editors—something he readily concedes.

Bezos, his boss, the most successful consumer-minded entrepreneur of his generation, began an online books business out of his garage and personally drove those early Amazon packages to the post office. He concedes that he did no real due diligence on the Post before he bought it, accepting the word of Graham that it was a worthy challenge. He took the company private and imposed the Amazon game plan: go from making a comparatively large amount of money on a relatively small number of consumers to a relatively small amount of money on a far larger group. As Nick Rockwell, the chief technology officer at the Times, explained to me, there’s “no secret” to the Bezos playbook: “The fundamental Amazon strategy is to successfully operate on smaller margins and beat everybody else on the scale game, and beat them to a pulp.” (For instance, Amazon Prime customers, of whom there may be as many as 65 million, get bargain-basement offers for digital Post subscriptions—about a quarter of what the Timescharges.) The newspaper also needed to transform itself from a solid local paper to a national, even global one by exploiting its knowledge of Washington, the world’s most influential capital. In Silicon Valley fashion, Bezos would look long-term and invest heavily in new technologies, first for the paper and then to sell to others. The Post would invent what it

At the Post, Baron inherited a failed strategy to focus on local and regional news (eliminating many national and foreign bureaus in the process), tensions between the print and digital operations, and a plummeting of both circulation and advertising revenues. By 2013, layoffs and buyouts had brought the Post newsroom staff down to the low 600s. Circulation had dipped to 475,000. Senior politics editor Steven Ginsberg recalls posting a vacancy for the top congressional reporting job—and not a single person applied.

The patrician Donald Graham, proud keeper of tradition, knew the situation was spiraling beyond his control. In 2013, urgently needing cash, the Post announced plans to sell its building. Even its for-profit educational company, Kaplan, whose healthy revenues had long bolstered the Post, began to implode amid a government crackdown on profit-making schools and training programs. The newsroom stopped holding farewell parties on Fridays—they were just too depressing.

All the while, Graham searched for a buyer, then stunned the world by announcing the sale of the Post to Jeff Bezos, the 49-year-old founder of Amazon, for a modest $250 million. Peter Baker, who had gone to the Times, remembers crying over the news. Graham was like a desperate but loving mother placing a newborn in a basket and sticking it on the doorstep of somebody she hoped would clasp it to heart.

The Post staff. See below for full caption.

Photograph by Franco Pagetti.

IV. IT’S A METAPHOR

Marty Baron took his place in the Washington Post newsroom in 2013. His predecessor, Marcus Brauchli, had combined the Washington newsroom and the separate, non-union, Virginia-based digital operations—a crucial step—and begun to alter a print-driven culture. But newsroom leadership can be vexing in hard times, and Brauchli never fully commanded the Post. Baron took charge the day after New Year’s and quickly began to upgrade a weakened political staff whose competition now included a relentless upstart, Politico. Don Graham had taken a pass on the original Politico concept, when brought to him by Post editor John Harris and reporter Jim VandeHei. With another investor they soon launched a site that became addictive for politics junkies. A post-Harris revolving door of political editors ended when Steven Ginsberg took over. Soon came the addition of many others, including Timemagazine’s Karen Tumulty; talented metro reporters like Philip Rucker and David Fahrenthold, who were moved to the politics team; and Robert Costa, a rapidly rising star. In Baron’s first year the paper won two Pulitzer Prizes, including the prestigious public-service medal for a flood-the-zone team project, featuring 28 journalists and led by Barton Gellman, which exposed the National Security Agency’s rampant surveillance program—stories based on leaks by Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who would ultimately take refuge in Russia. Traditional newsrooms are knotty, hierarchical organisms. Baron projected purpose, a fierce sense of support, a steely focus on story quality, and an awareness of how to deal with fragile egos. He has also shown spine in Trump coverage and in the face of unceasing attacks from the White House. The man portrayed by Liev Schreiber in Spotlight comes uncannily close to the mark. Baron has benefited from Hollywood lionization and also from the absence of financial pressures that normally burden editors—something he readily concedes.

Bezos, his boss, the most successful consumer-minded entrepreneur of his generation, began an online books business out of his garage and personally drove those early Amazon packages to the post office. He concedes that he did no real due diligence on the Post before he bought it, accepting the word of Graham that it was a worthy challenge. He took the company private and imposed the Amazon game plan: go from making a comparatively large amount of money on a relatively small number of consumers to a relatively small amount of money on a far larger group. As Nick Rockwell, the chief technology officer at the Times, explained to me, there’s “no secret” to the Bezos playbook: “The fundamental Amazon strategy is to successfully operate on smaller margins and beat everybody else on the scale game, and beat them to a pulp.” (For instance, Amazon Prime customers, of whom there may be as many as 65 million, get bargain-basement offers for digital Post subscriptions—about a quarter of what the Timescharges.) The newspaper also needed to transform itself from a solid local paper to a national, even global one by exploiting its knowledge of Washington, the world’s most influential capital. In Silicon Valley fashion, Bezos would look long-term and invest heavily in new technologies, first for the paper and then to sell to others. The Post would invent what it

dquarters, on Franklin Square, in Washington, D.C.; Right, The New York Times Building, on Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan.

Left, by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty Images; Right, by Franco Pagetti.

V. INSIDE THE CASTLE

To hear Elisabeth Bumiller tell it, her work life today is more intense than when she covered the White House on 9/11 and after, or when she covered the war in Afghanistan. Today she is the Washington-bureau chief of the Times. “There’s a relentlessness to it that’s new,” she told me. There’s the need to match competitors quickly; the incessant “breaking news” claims of cable TV; and, needless to say, the behavior of the president himself: the provocative and outrageous tweets, the attacks on the press, and the cornucopia of outright falsehoods that inspired a June 25 full-page summary in the Sunday Times listing “Trump’s Lies.” “People didn’t agree with George W. Bush, but the government operated in a normal fashion,” Bumiller told me. Nothing is normal now. Elements of her 85-person operation are working by six A.M.—and so is she—just to deal with Trump’s sunrise tweets.

Her team includes Peter Baker, who personifies the priority placed by the Times on covering Trump. Baker had moved to Jerusalem last August to be the newspaper’s bureau chief; four months later, the Times brought him back. All told, the newspaper would double its White House contingent, with an all-star team of Baker, Julie Hirschfield Davis, Maggie Haberman, Mark Landler, Michael Schear, and Glenn Thrush.

Haberman, an unrelenting old-school reporter and now a brand name, had covered Trump briefly during previous lives at both of the New York tabloids, the Daily News and the New York Post. In the summer of 2015—by which point she was at the Times, after a stint at Politico—Trump offered her an exclusive on his decision to run. Recalling his similar posturing in 2011, she passed on the offer, telling him she’d report it if he did. That’s now an irrelevant footnote given her reporting in the two years since then. Trump has an attitude toward the Times that he wears on his sleeve. He bashes the “failing New York Times” every chance he gets, and yet he craves its imprimatur. On July 19, Trump gave the Times its fourth major interview (it trails only Fox News)—a stunning display of the extemporaneous as he trashed Attorney General Jeff Sessions and warned special counsel Robert Mueller not to probe the Trump family’s finances. Haberman is in Trump’s head so deep she could be his psychiatrist, and she has had extraordinary access to the president and the administration. She is a regular commentator on TV about life “inside the castle.”

“Trump has been very good for the ‘failing New York Times,’ ” said Bumiller—though its single most influential story may have been Michael Schmidt’s disclosure in 2015 that, as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton “exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business,” a story that Clinton never got out from under. Bumiller is hiring new staff continually. Readership is at record levels. Digital subscriptions are at 2.2 million and total paid readership is around 3.2 million. Monthly page views are at about 1.5 billion.

“What I believe we had to do,” said Dean Baquet when I spoke with him in New York, “as opposed to Morning Joe, is hard-hitting investigative reporting. Not trickery or drawings of him with Pinocchio noses. You can put all the digital bells and whistles on what we do, but if it’s not rooted in great journalism, it doesn’t work.” Baquet, a working-class New Orleans kid turned Manhattan sophisticate, commands a large and complex editorial operation with adroitness and practiced charm. His office is spare, strewn with papers, and decorated with Creole pottery and some contemporary abstract paintings of the French Quarter. Mock front pages hang on the walls—parting gifts from colleagues at the many papers where he has worked. Despite qualms in certain quarters about editorial decisions—some argue that the Hillary Clinton e-mail-server stories were overplayed—his news judgment is sharp and reflects eclectic tastes.

Stories broken by the Times in recent months include the news that Russian officials plotted to influence Trump through Michael Flynn and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort; that then F.B.I. director James Comey had written a memo to himself about President Trump’s request to quash his Flynn investigation; that Trump had lobbied Comey to give him a clean bill of legal health; that Trump had allegedly demanded Comey’s personal loyalty at a private White House dinner; and that Comey had asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump.

What the Times has and the Post does not is a truly comprehensive range. You see it at the daily news meeting—held in New York and chaired by Baquet—whose format, values, and pacing remain largely unchanged from days gone by, even if the focus is far more on digital than on print. On a recent day, Baquet opened by noting “the impressive breadth of the report” that morning. It included the latest in a string of exclusives on ethical disarray at Uber. The editors moved on to overseas stories, movie reviews, a piece examining tensions between New York State’s governor and New York City’s mayor, and a look at a Cuban-art exhibition. Sitting at the meeting—and, frankly, just reading the newspaper—you realize that, even as the Times and Post far outdistance every other newspaper in the country, the field of play for the two of them is not level. The Times today has 1,350 editorial employees, or about 600 more than the Post. It has more than 30 international bureaus and 75 overseas correspondents. Ironically, in terms of information, it’s a little like Amazon, trying to be an all-purpose department store in an age of specialization. “No news organization has the breadth of The New York Times,” Baquet observed. That said, “we worry deeply about the Post on national security and politics, worry about The Wall Street Journal on Uber, and worry about The New York Review of Books on books and culture.”

The Times is cranking out 360-degree videos of window washers atop Manhattan skyscrapers, perhaps the best cooking app anywhere, pro-golf exclusives, and a great photography and video blog called Lens. At the same time, various kinds of restructuring at the newspaper—notably a reduction in copy-editor positions in order to free up more content-producing slots, given online demands—have left many unhappy. There will inevitably be a decline in editing quality. The copy-editing announcement, which affected what is seen by some as part of the heart and soul of the newspaper, led this summer not only to formal letters of protest from staffers but also to a newsroom walkout by hundreds. “The newsroom of the future will be slightly smaller,” Baquet told me simply. “That’s reality.”

The Times’s foundational accomplishment is that, against great odds, it has maintained the support of a fifth generation of family ownership in the Sulzbergers. The key members include thirtysomething cousins A. G. Sulzberger, who will eventually take over the company from his father, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and Sam Dolnick, an assistant editor whose accomplishments include overseeing a podcast phenomenon called “The Daily,” which averages half a million downloads a day. It verges on the inconceivable that a family business would endure this long, especially amid industry decline and a languishing stock price—and, as has been the case elsewhere, an understandable impulse by some members to cash out. But Sulzberger and Dolnick, who are among the members known internally as “the princelings,” aren’t going anywhere. The family remains “genuinely close” to the paper, Dolnick said. His cousin, A.G., conceded that the notion of family control may seem archaic. Not to him. Not to them.

Left, The Washington Post’s headquarters, on Franklin Square, i

VI. DAMAGE DONE

On a wall in his office Marty Baron has hung a vintage poster of a shiny typewriter. Below it hangs a photograph of a burned-out typewriter. Yes, he says—another metaphor. Most American newsrooms are hollowed out, their products diminished, their revenues tanking. Newspaper editors and TV news directors I know read the Times and the Post with envy and an indirect professional pride, but also a sense that what these newspapers are doing is almost completely irrelevant to their own situations—and far beyond their capacities. If you’ve encountered the lassitude now pervading much of the American press, you cannot spend time at the Post and the Times without being exhilarated. (At the same time, you have to wonder what ever happened to The Wall Street Journal, which ought to be in the same league when it comes to covering Trump but is not even close.) As Dean Baquet acknowledged, “competition is the least examined motivation in American journalism.”

The financial models at the two newspapers are different, and so is what they are selling. The Post, whose coverage is Washington-driven, can never hope to match the Times’s range across culture, business, and international affairs, and the Times, whose total revenues are less today than they were a dozen years ago, cannot hope to match the deep pockets of Jeff Bezos, who sometimes earns more in a few hours, if Amazon stock goes up, than he paid for his newspaper to begin with. (Bezos made $2.5 billion—10 times what he had paid for the Post—in the two hours after Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods was announced.) The Postis more advanced technologically than the Times and seems to recognize that the true competition, as publisher Fred Ryan Jr. put it, is “anything that engages you in your non-sleeping hours.” But both papers are ultimately built on people paying for quality.

You can argue that Trump has bought both newspapers some time—which makes you wonder if their success will continue once Trump is no longer an irresistible and unsettling object of scrutiny. Will even the world’s second-richest man lose his passion somewhere down the road? Will the fifth generation of a newspaper family be done in by what is, essentially, their one and only revenue stream? The leaders of both newspapers say they will continue to double down on content. The Times is now available in Spanish and Mandarin, with big plans in places as diverse as Mexico and Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. On the margins it hopes to generate additional revenue with gimmicky ventures such as around-the-world trips by private jet (for $135,000 a person) in the company of Times journalists.

But an existential threat is already apparent: many Americans won’t believe a thing either newspaper says, no matter how great the accuracy, attention to detail, or fair-mindedness. The sharp uptick in Times and Post readership may obscure a larger cultural change. The unequivocal evidence of Russian involvement in the presidential campaign exemplifies the state of play. In June, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll showed that more than half of those surveyed believe that the Russians interfered in the presidential election, with about one-third believing it influenced the outcome, and more Americans buying Comey’s explanation of his dismissal than Trump’s. But half think the press has been overly dramatic and irresponsible in its Russia-related coverage, with two-thirds of Republicans simply not believing that the Russians interfered at all, despite evidence assessed by four different U.S. intelligence services. Dig deeper and you find that, while 89 percent of Democrats believe in the importance of the media’s “watchdog” role, only 42 percent of Republicans do, according to the Pew Research Center. It is the widest gap that Pew has ever seen. What’s astonishing is that in early 2016, according to Pew, Democrats and Republicans essentially agreed on the role of the press, with Republicans (77 percent) actually outpacing Democrats (74 percent) in their support.

(1) Alice Crites, research editor. (2) Matt Zapotosky, Justice Department reporter. (3) Devlin Barrett, national-security reporter. (4) Jenna Johnson, White House reporter. (5) John Wagner, White House reporter. (6) Dan Balz, chief correspondent. (7) Paige Winfield Cunningham, “The Health 202” author. (8) Steven Ginsberg, senior politics editor. (9) Robert Costa, national political reporter. (10) Elise Viebeck, national reporter. (11) Kelsey Snell, congressional reporter. (12) Karoun Demirjian, congressional reporter. (13) Peter Finn, national-security editor. (14) Mike DeBonis, congressional reporter. (15) Jia Lynn Yang, deputy national-security editor. (16) Adam Entous, national-security reporter. (17) Fred Hiatt, editorial-page editor. (18) Jonathan Capehart, editorial writer. (19) David Nakamura, White House reporter. (20) Anne Gearan, diplomatic correspondent. (21) Dan Lamothe, national-security reporter. (22) Ellen Nakashima, national-security reporter. (23) James Hohmann, “The Daily 202” author. (24) Ed O’Keefe, congressional reporter. (25) Lori Montgomery, deputy national editor. (26) Dan Eggen, deputy national politics editor. (27) Ashley Parker, White House reporter. (28) Amber Phillips, “The Fix” political reporter. (29) Karen DeYoung, senior national-security correspondent and associate editor. (30) Sari Horwitz, Justice Department reporter. (31) Julie Tate, national researcher. (32) Joby Warrick, national-security reporter. (33) Joanie Greve, “The Daily 202” researcher. (34) Kimberly Kindy, national investigative reporter. (35) Paulina Firozi, “PowerPost” researcher. (36) Breanne Deppisch, “The Daily 202” reporter. (37) David Fahrenthold, national political reporter. (38) Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief. (39) Julie Vitkovskaya, foreign-and-national-security digital editor. Not pictured: Amy Gardner, deputy national politics editor; Paul Kane, senior congressional correspondent; Greg Miller, national-security reporter; Abby Phillip, White House reporter; Sean Sullivan, congressional reporter; Rachel Van Dongen, “PowerPost” editor; Dave Weigel, congressional reporter; Scott Wilson, national editor.

Trump and aides like Steve Bannon have done all they can to delegitimize the press. Trump habitually dismisses any story he doesn’t like as “fake news”—a phrase already entrenched in the cultural lexicon. In a recent exchange with the White House press corps, then deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made hay over the retraction of a Trump-related story by CNN—an example of a news organization owning up to a mistake, as it should—and urged reporters to focus instead on a video by James O’Keefe, a right-wing provocateur whose work has been widely discredited. Two days later, Trump unleashed his infamous tweet about MSNBC’s “Psycho Joe” Scarborough and Morning Joe co-host “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” Brzezinski—“bleeding badly from a face-lift”—followed a few days after that by his re-tweet of a doctored video showing Trump pummeling a man with the CNN logo over his face.

Damage has been done. When the Times publishes an entire page of “Trump’s Lies”—the result of meticulous research and editing—you’d hope it would move the needle. You’d have hoped the entire depressing cavalcade of stories over the past year would have moved the needle. Trump’s Gallup Poll approval rating in July was a dismally low 38 percent, but among his supporters it does not seem to have dropped much at all.

The most troubling question is not whether the Times or the Post—or any other news outlet—can continue to perform to a superior standard. It is whether Trump and people like him have so degraded basic notions of fact and authority that truth no longer matters. If they have, then the metaphor about Montgomery and Patton is obsolete. A better one would come from that famous remark by Borges, about two bald men fighting over a comb.

VI. DAMAGE DONE

On a wall in his office Marty Baron has hung a vintage poster of a shiny typewriter. Below it hangs a photograph of a burned-out typewriter. Yes, he says—another metaphor. Most American newsrooms are hollowed out, their products diminished, their revenues tanking. Newspaper editors and TV news directors I know read the Times and the Post with envy and an indirect professional pride, but also a sense that what these newspapers are doing is almost completely irrelevant to their own situations—and far beyond their capacities. If you’ve encountered the lassitude now pervading much of the American press, you cannot spend time at the Post and the Times without being exhilarated. (At the same time, you have to wonder what ever happened to The Wall Street Journal, which ought to be in the same league when it comes to covering Trump but is not even close.) As Dean Baquet acknowledged, “competition is the least examined motivation in American journalism.”

The financial models at the two newspapers are different, and so is what they are selling. The Post, whose coverage is Washington-driven, can never hope to match the Times’s range across culture, business, and international affairs, and the Times, whose total revenues are less today than they were a dozen years ago, cannot hope to match the deep pockets of Jeff Bezos, who sometimes earns more in a few hours, if Amazon stock goes up, than he paid for his newspaper to begin with. (Bezos made $2.5 billion—10 times what he had paid for the Post—in the two hours after Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods was announced.) The Postis more advanced technologically than the Times and seems to recognize that the true competition, as publisher Fred Ryan Jr. put it, is “anything that engages you in your non-sleeping hours.” But both papers are ultimately built on people paying for quality.

You can argue that Trump has bought both newspapers some time—which makes you wonder if their success will continue once Trump is no longer an irresistible and unsettling object of scrutiny. Will even the world’s second-richest man lose his passion somewhere down the road? Will the fifth generation of a newspaper family be done in by what is, essentially, their one and only revenue stream? The leaders of both newspapers say they will continue to double down on content. The Times is now available in Spanish and Mandarin, with big plans in places as diverse as Mexico and Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. On the margins it hopes to generate additional revenue with gimmicky ventures such as around-the-world trips by private jet (for $135,000 a person) in the company of Times journalists.

But an existential threat is already apparent: many Americans won’t believe a thing either newspaper says, no matter how great the accuracy, attention to detail, or fair-mindedness. The sharp uptick in Times and Post readership may obscure a larger cultural change. The unequivocal evidence of Russian involvement in the presidential campaign exemplifies the state of play. In June, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll showed that more than half of those surveyed believe that the Russians interfered in the presidential election, with about one-third believing it influenced the outcome, and more Americans buying Comey’s explanation of his dismissal than Trump’s. But half think the press has been overly dramatic and irresponsible in its Russia-related coverage, with two-thirds of Republicans simply not believing that the Russians interfered at all, despite evidence assessed by four different U.S. intelligence services. Dig deeper and you find that, while 89 percent of Democrats believe in the importance of the media’s “watchdog” role, only 42 percent of Republicans do, according to the Pew Research Center. It is the widest gap that Pew has ever seen. What’s astonishing is that in early 2016, according to Pew, Democrats and Republicans essentially agreed on the role of the press, with Republicans (77 percent) actually outpacing Democrats (74 percent) in their support.

(1) Alice Crites, research editor. (2) Matt Zapotosky, Justice Department reporter. (3) Devlin Barrett, national-security reporter. (4) Jenna Johnson, White House reporter. (5) John Wagner, White House reporter. (6) Dan Balz, chief correspondent. (7) Paige Winfield Cunningham, “The Health 202” author. (8) Steven Ginsberg, senior politics editor. (9) Robert Costa, national political reporter. (10) Elise Viebeck, national reporter. (11) Kelsey Snell, congressional reporter. (12) Karoun Demirjian, congressional reporter. (13) Peter Finn, national-security editor. (14) Mike DeBonis, congressional reporter. (15) Jia Lynn Yang, deputy national-security editor. (16) Adam Entous, national-security reporter. (17) Fred Hiatt, editorial-page editor. (18) Jonathan Capehart, editorial writer. (19) David Nakamura, White House reporter. (20) Anne Gearan, diplomatic correspondent. (21) Dan Lamothe, national-security reporter. (22) Ellen Nakashima, national-security reporter. (23) James Hohmann, “The Daily 202” author. (24) Ed O’Keefe, congressional reporter. (25) Lori Montgomery, deputy national editor. (26) Dan Eggen, deputy national politics editor. (27) Ashley Parker, White House reporter. (28) Amber Phillips, “The Fix” political reporter. (29) Karen DeYoung, senior national-security correspondent and associate editor. (30) Sari Horwitz, Justice Department reporter. (31) Julie Tate, national researcher. (32) Joby Warrick, national-security reporter. (33) Joanie Greve, “The Daily 202” researcher. (34) Kimberly Kindy, national investigative reporter. (35) Paulina Firozi, “PowerPost” researcher. (36) Breanne Deppisch, “The Daily 202” reporter. (37) David Fahrenthold, national political reporter. (38) Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief. (39) Julie Vitkovskaya, foreign-and-national-security digital editor. Not pictured: Amy Gardner, deputy national politics editor; Paul Kane, senior congressional correspondent; Greg Miller, national-security reporter; Abby Phillip, White House reporter; Sean Sullivan, congressional reporter; Rachel Van Dongen, “PowerPost” editor; Dave Weigel, congressional reporter; Scott Wilson, national editor.

Trump and aides like Steve Bannon have done all they can to delegitimize the press. Trump habitually dismisses any story he doesn’t like as “fake news”—a phrase already entrenched in the cultural lexicon. In a recent exchange with the White House press corps, then deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made hay over the retraction of a Trump-related story by CNN—an example of a news organization owning up to a mistake, as it should—and urged reporters to focus instead on a video by James O’Keefe, a right-wing provocateur whose work has been widely discredited. Two days later, Trump unleashed his infamous tweet about MSNBC’s “Psycho Joe” Scarborough and Morning Joe co-host “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” Brzezinski—“bleeding badly from a face-lift”—followed a few days after that by his re-tweet of a doctored video showing Trump pummeling a man with the CNN logo over his face.

Damage has been done. When the Times publishes an entire page of “Trump’s Lies”—the result of meticulous research and editing—you’d hope it would move the needle. You’d have hoped the entire depressing cavalcade of stories over the past year would have moved the needle. Trump’s Gallup Poll approval rating in July was a dismally low 38 percent, but among his supporters it does not seem to have dropped much at all.

The most troubling question is not whether the Times or the Post—or any other news outlet—can continue to perform to a superior standard. It is whether Trump and people like him have so degraded basic notions of fact and authority that truth no longer matters. If they have, then the metaphor about Montgomery and Patton is obsolete. A better one would come from that famous remark by Borges, about two bald men fighting over a comb.

Last Great Newspaper War

Last Great Newspaper War

RV-Vijay

Author: RV-Vijay