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Tim Lee on Why the Washington Post Is Dying

Tim Lee:

Dave Weigel and the Decline of the Post | Bottom-up: Things have gotten so grim that the paper is flailing, trying one strategy after another in hopes of hitting on a strategy that will work. Hiring Dave and Ezra Klein was apparently one such attempt. Unfortunately, the paper didn’t do its homework. They seem not to have read enough of Dave’s past work to realize that his style of reporting was fundamentally different from the style practiced by other reporters at the Post. When they finally realized this fact, they rather ludicrously blamed Dave for his failure to be “impartial,” despite the fact that Dave has never pretended to be.

There’s a tendency among professional blogger types to cluck their tongues and say that the Post just needs to start behaving in a more bloggy fashion and everything will be OK. But I think that largely misses the point. Hiring opinionated reporters can be a good strategy in general, but it’s probably not a good strategy for the Washington Post. A large, bureaucratic organization like the Post is almost certainly incapable of nurturing the kind of quirky, bottom-up culture you that produces successful bloggers. And the business strategy of the Post requires that it appeal to a broad audience. You don’t do that by hiring some bloggers who offend liberals and other bloggers who offend conservatives; that will just alienate everyone.

The decline of the ethic of journalistic impartiality is just one facet of the larger decline of cellulose-based information technologies that are the foundation of the Washington Post‘s business. Late-20th-century print journalists fooled themselves into thinking that the journalistic culture of large daily newspapers was the gold standard for journalists in general. In reality, each medium has its own distinctive style. The Internet is still a young medium, and so it’s too early to say what the new culture will look like. But the key point is that the optimal style for online journalism is something that will be discovered by trial and error. Abstract arguments about journalistic ethics are sort of beside the point.

One correction: the Washington Post never wanted to be perceived as impartial in the sense of an umpire with good eyesight who called balls and strikes as he or she saw them. The Washington Post wanted to be perceived as neutral in that roughly half its calls would go for the establishment Democrats and half its calls would go to the establishment Republicans. There are very big differences. For one thing, a neutral paper is bound to be untrustworthy as a source of information.

And this is why we can't have a better press corps right now.

UPDATE: Also, a lack of class:

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No "David Weigel has resigned from the Washington Post. He did excellent work for us and we wish him success in his future endeavors..."