Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Washington Times, neutered

Jamie Kirchick of The New Republic is a nice guy, but of course he has to recycle the obligatory "Moonie Paper" smear on The Washington Times, by way of praising new editor John Solomon's "modernization agenda," which gives the paper "newfound, mainstream credibility."

Look, I spent most of my last three years at the paper trying to get our coverage integrated into the blogosphere, so don't tell me about "modernization." The ownership dropped a reported $2 million to bring in consultants and we were four months from the planned launch of a new Web re-design when it was announced that they'd hired Solomon from the Post, and that Wes Pruden and Fran Coombs were leaving. I had a book research assignment that required travel, and so it struck me as a good time to leave, too. (National editor Ken Hanner hung around a few months longer and took a buyout.)

The Washington Times was originally conceived during Ronald Reagan's first term as an alternative to the "mainstream" Washington Post, and as an institution, the Times was quite consciously part of the conservative movement -- anti-communist, pro-family, pro-freedom, pro-faith. The credibility of the news operation was built during a quarter-century of breaking exclusive stories, most often with a "hit 'em where they ain't" approach: Looking for stories and angles that the "mainstream" media ignored.

One of the things I did as editor of the paper's "Culture, Etc." page -- which ran on A2 Monday through Friday -- was to produce feature profiles about conservative authors and activists, giving them the kind of coverage no conservative ever got from the "Style" page of the Post. I did features about Michelle Malkin, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Brent Bozell, Ann Coulter, Angela McGlowan, Wendy Shalit, David Horowitz, Ward Connerly, Bill Bennett, etc., etc. Well, since I left the paper, "Culture, Etc." has been banished to the back pages and now it's just wire copy.

Some of the other changes in the paper are arguably improvements, but the fact is, there is no longer a conservative newspaper in the nation's capital. That is a real loss and, as I told Kirchick, the change brings into question the raison d'etre of the paper:
"It's a question of what the Washington Times is about," Robert Stacy McCain says. "The whole concept of 1982 was that Washington was too important a town to have one newspaper delivering the news from one perspective only. So the Washington Times was conceived as an alternative to the Washington Post. If there's no difference in the news coverage, how then is it an alternative?"
I'm very proud of my 10 years at the Times, and wish the paper well. But surrendering the paper's alternative identity strikes me as an enormous blunder -- and I know that I'm not the only person who thinks so.

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