Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sad times for The Washington Times

Via Memeorandum, I notice my buddy Jimmie Bise has blogged about the recent sad news at the Washington Times. I left a comment there:
You know, Jimmie, I tendered my resignation in January 2008, two days after they hired the Washington Post's John Solomon to replace Wes Pruden as editor. Right after Solomon's hiring was announced, one of my newsroom colleagues said to me, "If I had wanted to work for a Postie, I would have applied at the %$#&ing Post!"
Exactly -- but that colleague didn't quit. I did. And my decision proved to be the smart move. I got out before things went to hell, which has given me a two-year head start on establishing an independent career online, while most of my former colleagues who haven't already been kicked to the curb soon will be.

Understand this: I never had anything personally or politically against John Solomon, and Dave Bossie (a staunch conservative) described Solomon as a good guy. But I've always felt that any good organization should promote from within, which had been the general policy of the Washington Times.

During my decade-plus at the Times (1997-2008), the top jobs were almost always held by people who had proven their ability and their loyalty through years of hard work for the company. The most notable exception to that policy was when they hired Tony Blankley as editorial page editor and, given Blankley's national reputation, there was not much grumbling about that.

The decision of the newspaper's management to pass over Fran Coombs in favor of Solomon as Wes Pruden's replacement was a mistake. Solomon's subsequent hiring of his Washington Post buddy Jeff Birnbaum as a managing editor was a worse mistake, and hiring USA Today's Barbara Slavin as assistant managing editor was worse still.

With three top newsroom positions filled by recent outside hires, the effective message to the newsroom staff was: "Screw you, you're not good enough to deserve a promotion."

The Disgruntled and Dysfunctional
Like I said, I'm glad I got out before that happened. In any large organization, just about everybody will eventually get passed over for promotion at some time, and it's easy to become disgruntled.

The promotion I got in 2003, from assistant national editor to editor of the "Culture, Etc." page, was not the job I wanted -- I actually begged them not to put me there -- but loyalty is loyalty. And I did such a good job at it as to make myself irreplaceable. (After I left, the new editors eliminated the culture page, which President Bush had praised as his favorite feature in his favorite paper.)

When I was hired at The Washington Times in November 1997, I'd promised my wife I'd only stay three to five years, then parlay that national-level experience into a job at some paper in her native Ohio. Ah, but then there was the Lewinsky scandal, the impeachment, the 2000 election deadlock, 9/11 . . .

How could I walk away from the thrill of being smack-dab in the middle of stuff like that? So I stayed, even if I was stuck in a desk-job that wasn't exactly my cup of tea. In doing so, however, I was violating career the advice I've always given to others: "If you don't move up, move out."

An Ounce of Loyalty
Life is too short to waste time being bitter because you didn't get the promotion you wanted. Either make the best of the job you're in, or else find another company that will recognize and reward your abilities. If you're really good at what you do, you'll success, and the company that failed to make full use of your abilities will regret your departure.

Beyond the general decline of the newspaper business, much of what has gone wrong at The Washington Times was a function of faulty organizational dynamics. The spirit of teamwork was undermined because of a relative handful of spiteful, selfish, disgruntled malcontents who did not heed Elbert Hubbard's wise advice:
If you work for a man, in heaven's name work for him!
If he pays you wages that supply you your bread and butter, work for him -- speak well of him, think well of him, stand by him and stand by the institution he represents.
I think if I worked for a man I would work for him. I would not work for him a part of the time, and the rest of the time work against him. I would give an undivided service or none.
If put to the pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.
If you must vilify, condemn and eternally disparage, why, resign your position and, when you are outside, damn to your heart's content. But, I pray you, so long as you are a part of an institution, do not condemn it. Not that you will injure the institution -- not that -- but when you disparage the concern of which you are a part, you disparage yourself.
There were too many people at the Washington Times -- only a handful, really, but enough to destroy the spirit of effective teamwork -- who thought they knew how to run a newspaper better than Wes Pruden and Fran Coombs knew how to run a newspaper. They have had their way and, as a result, the newspaper has been run into the ground.

It's a crying shame, and it remains to be seen whether The Washington Times can ever again become what it once was: The most important newspaper in the world, providing an invaluable balance to the liberal Post, reporting stories in the nation's capital that would have otherwise been ignored.

Tuckpo Update
Last night, I saw a friend who gave me the latest word on Tucker Carlson's long-delayed They've reportedly gotten a new investment of $3 million and now expect to roll out in January -- at least six months later than Carlson promised in May.

Well, good luck with that, but I'm reminded of a conversation I had this past spring. After seeing what I'd written in the wake of the Culture 11 Hindenberg-at-Lakehurst implosion, I was contacted by guy who is affiliated with a major conservative foundation. He wanted to "pick my brain," as they say, about how an online news operation could be developed, and we talked for more than an hour.

Among other things, I explained that personnel is policy. What went wrong at Culture 11 had a lot to do with the fact that David Kuo was hired to run it. Kuo is a second-rater who couldn't make a profit on the snow-cone franchise in Hell, and there was nothing on his resume to suggest he knew anything about running a news operation. Hire the wrong guy at the top and you'll get bad results every time.

What I told my foundation-funded friend was this: If you're going to start a conservative news operation, the first thing you need to do is to hire Fran Coombs to run it. Nobody in Washington knows how to do it better, and anybody who tells you otherwise is wrong.

That was last spring. Given the subsequent success of, I'd say the second guy you need to hire if you're going to start a conservative news operation is Andrew Breitbart.

Whatever other decisions were subsequently made, any conservative news organization that could combine the Old School journalism savvy of Coombs with the New Media brilliance of Breitbart would be unbeatable. And you wouldn't need seven months and $3 million to make it happen.

As I say, I wish all the luck to But it had better not suck.


  1. It is, indeed, sad what has happened to The Washington Times. Thank God The Washington Examiner has picked up the torch and is running with it.

    I hope our mutual friend Quin Hillyer is doing okay.

  2. I think part of the problem is that the Times wanted to go establishment. To quote your assesment of Obamanomics-It won't work. I still think The Times has some great writers-Bill Gertz comes to immediate mind. I just signed up for the National Edition for a year. I believe in supporting good media and for all of its faults, The Washington Times is far superior to The Washington Post.