“Let’s Not Sugarcoat it … People are Not Reading Your Stuff”

“Let’s Not Sugarcoat it … People are Not Reading Your Stuff”

Publisher Drops Truth Bomb at WaPo

By Jonathan Turley

Washington Post publisher and CEO William Lewis is being denounced this week after the end of the short-lived tenure of Executive Editor Sally Buzbee and delivering a truth bomb to the staff. Lewis told them that they have lost their audience and “people are not reading your stuff.” It was a shot of reality in the echo chambered news outlet and the response was predictable. However, Lewis just might save this venerable newspaper if he follows his frank talk with meaningful reforms to bring balance back to the Post.

As someone who once wrote for the Washington Post regularly, I have long lamented the decline of the paper following a pronounced shift toward partisan and advocacy journalism. There was a time when the Post valued diversity of thought and steadfastly demanded staff write not as advocates but reporters. That began to change rapidly in the first Trump term.

Suddenly, I found editors would slow walk copy, contest every line of your column, and make unfounded claims. In the meantime, they were increasingly running unsupported legal columns and even false statements from authors on the left. When confronted about columnists with demonstrably false statements, the Post simply shrugged.

One of the most striking examples was after its columnist Philip Bump had a meltdown in an interview when confronted over past false claims. After I wrote a column about the litany of such false claims, the Post surprised many of us by issuing a statement that they stood by all of Bump’s reporting, including false columns on the Lafayette Park protests, Hunter Biden laptop and other stories.  That was long after other media debunked the claims, but the Post stood by the false reporting.

The decline of the Post has followed a familiar pattern. The editors and reporters simply wrote off half of their audience and became a publication for largely liberal and Democratic readers. In these difficult economic times with limited revenue sources, it is a lethal decision. Yet, for editors and reporters, it is still professionally beneficial to embrace advocacy journalism even if it is reducing the readership of your own newspaper.

Lewis, a British media executive who joined the Post earlier this year, reportedly got into a “heated exchange” with a staffer. Lewis explained that, while reporters were protesting measures to expand readership, the very survival of the paper was now at stake:

“We are going to turn this thing around, but let’s not sugarcoat it. It needs turning around,” Lewis said. “We are losing large amounts of money. Your audience has halved in recent years. People are not reading your stuff. Right. I can’t sugarcoat it anymore.”

Other staffers could not get beyond the gender and race of those who would be overseeing them. One staffer complained “we now have four White men running three newsrooms.”

The Post has been buying out staff to avoid mass layoffs, but reporters are up in arms over the effort to turn the newspaper around.

The question is whether, after years of creating a culture of advocacy journalism and woke reporting, the Post is still capable of reaching a larger audience. If you want to read about certain stories, you are not likely to go to the Post, NPR or other outlets.

Likewise, with reporters referring to the January 6th riot as an “insurrection,” there is little doubt for the reader that the coverage is a form of advocacy. Again, such stories can affirm the bona fides for reporters, but they also affirm the bias for readers.

I truly do hope that the Washington Post can recover. The newspaper has played a critical role in our history and a towering example of journalism at its very best from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate. If you want people to “read your stuff,” you need to return to being reporters and not advocates; you need to start reaching an audience larger than yourself and your friends.

As I previously wrote, the mantra “Let’s Go Brandon!” was embraced by millions as a criticism as much of the media as President Biden.  It derives from an Oct. 2 interview with race-car driver Brandon Brown after he won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race. During the interview, NBC reporter Kelli Stavast’s questions were drowned out by loud-and-clear chants of “F*** Joe Biden.” Stavast quickly and inexplicably declared, “You can hear the chants from the crowd, ‘Let’s go, Brandon!’”

Stavast’s denial or misinterpretation of the obvious instantly became a symbol of what many Americans perceive as media bias in favor of the Biden administration. Indeed, some in the media immediately praised Stavast for her “smooth save” and being a “quick-thinking reporter.” The media’s reaction has fulfilled the underlying narrative, too, with commentators growing increasingly shrill in denouncing its use. NPR denounced the chant as “vulgar,” while writers at the Washington Post and other newspapers condemned it as offensive; CNN’s John Avalon called it “not patriotic,” while CNN political analyst Joe Lockhart compared it to coded rhetoric from Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and ISIS.

The more the media has cried foul, however, the more people picked up the chant.

It was the public response to how many in the media have embraced advocacy journalism and rejected objectivity in reporting; in their view, readers and viewers are now to be educated rather than merely informed. That included the rejection of “both-sidesism,” the need to offer a balanced account of the news.

Many of us hope that Lewis will rescue the Post from itself in the coming months. It will not be easy after years of orthodoxy and advocacy in the ranks. Yet, the Washington Post is a national treasure worth fighting for….

People are still longing for old-fashioned, reliable news. As with the Field of Dreams, if you re-build it, “they will come” back to the Post.


(TLB) published  this article from Jonathan Turley with our appreciation for this perspective

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Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

Header featured image (edited) credit: Lewis/Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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2 Comments on “Let’s Not Sugarcoat it … People are Not Reading Your Stuff”

  1. I disagree. I hope the Washington Post dies an ugly death along with all of its sister rags. Let that be an lesson to all of its employees and all of the leftist government agencies who killed it.

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