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Post moves to protect its politics franchise

By Andy Alexander

The headline on today’s press release said: “The Washington Post Launches” It might have said: “Post Moves To Protect Its Franchise.”

For decades, The Post has been synonymous with superior politics coverage. But increased competition from online rivals, coupled with the loss of some major talent through defections and buyouts, had left many in the newsroom worried that The Post’s once-commanding coverage was becoming commonplace.

Today’s launch of its new politics Web site is intended to unfurl the Post flag and replant it at the front of an expanding parade of competitor brands. As if to remind readers of its legacy, it promotes itself as “Still the best politics coverage.”

At the same time, The Post announced that Chris Cillizza, whose popular blog The Fix is a must-read for politics junkies, will take on an expanded role as managing editor of Cillizza, a workhorse who is perhaps the best-sourced politics reporter on The Post’s staff, is considered a rising star and is a brand on his own.

“The Washington Post has long been synonymous with political writing and a mastery of what happens in Washington,” National Editor Kevin Merida told me several weeks ago during an interview about politics coverage. “It’s the capital of politics.”

In recent years, The Post has lost some of its brightest and most prolific politics writers. John Harris and Jim VandeHei departed to found Politico, now a serious competitor in politics coverage. They were joined at Politico by former Post politics reporter Mike Allen, whose was featured in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine as a must-read agenda setter through his daily e-mailed Playbook tipsheet. Respected Post veterans such as Dan Balz and David Broder, an icon among politics reporters, remain. But other Post specialists in politics and campaign finance have left through buyouts as The Post has reduced staff to cut costs.

It took months for The Post to hire a national politics editor to guide coverage of this year’s midterm elections and beyond. They had offered the job to Aaron Zitner of the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau, who had previous experience crafting that paper’s politics coverage. But Zitner declined the offer, leading some in The Post’s newsroom to fret that continued cost-cutting was scaring off prospective hires because they lacked confidence the paper would commit the resources necessary to continue to be a leader in politics coverage. After declining the Post job, Zitner left the Times to head politics coverage at The Wall Street Journal.

But in recent weeks, The Post has moved aggressively to bolster its politics team. Karen Tumulty, Time magazine’s veteran national political correspondent, joined The Post this month to play a similar role. Well-sourced and respected, her continued presence on television will increase The Post’s branding of its politics coverage.

Weston Kosova, a senior editor in Newsweek’s Washington bureau who has directed its coverage of the last three presidential campaigns, was hired last week to be The Post’s national politics editor. His arrival in late May will come as The Post moves deeply into coverage of midterm primary campaigns and elections.

Nia-Malika Henderson, who held a White House beat with Politico, joined The Post’s politics team this week. A staff memo announcing her hiring said she will “focus her reporting on the First Family, and mine the intersection of politics and culture in Washington. What is going on in this town that is new and different since the Obama administration arrived? What are the key friendships that help explain the Obama’s’ lives in the federal city?” The memo also said Henderson, a Post summer intern in 2005, will “play a significant role” in coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign.

At the same time, The Post has been shifting reporters and editors to the politics team to beef up coverage of campaign finance and lobbying. They have been joined by Tim Farnam, hired away from The Wall Street Journal, who will use his expertise in databases to unearth stories on campaign fundraising and spending.

The new site will draw on content from throughout the newsroom, including opinion columnists from the Op-ed Page. It offers a slick interactive map, allowing readers to click on a state or congressional district to see past Senate, House and gubernatorial election results and fundraising statistics. Visitors to the site also are given a variety of social media options.

In the works, but not yet launched, will be links to a network of state-based political bloggers and live video discussions and daily video reports on politics by Cillizza. Users also can sign up to receive e-mail alerts on politics:

There will also be a partnership with ABC News and its weekday, noontime “Top Line” Webcast on politics. And The Post expects to offer expanded political surveys and analysis of polls.

There’s more competition than ever, and the launch of underscores the fact that people want their political news and analysis instantly and are unwilling to wait until the next day’s newspaper. As The Post said in promoting the site in today’s newspaper, it will be: “Focused. Factual. First.”

Competitors like Politico put a premium on speed-to-audience. But The Post is also stressing its reach as a national and international brand. “No other politics Website in the capital reaches more people than we do,” Post Executive editor Marcus Brauchli said in today’s press release.

In the interview several weeks ago, I asked Merida about the threat from Politico. “I don’t really worry about Politico, to be honest with you,” he said. “I worry about us being able to give people what they need and what they want.”

The fierce competition will benefit those who love to follow politics.

By Andy Alexander  | April 28, 2010; 12:48 PM ET
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So... the WaPo is ramping up to help the dems as best it can in November. At this point, it looks like the WaPo will be doing triage.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | April 29, 2010 12:08 AM | Report abuse

A sure-fire way to increase readership and protect your franchise is to be a lot more "FAIR and BALANCED".

In other words stop being the editorial mouthpiece for Barack Obama and liberal Democrats.

Don't deny it. What comes from the mouths of the Obamatons today will always appear in the WaPo tomorrow with fawning approval.

Pravda was such a publication for "THE EVIL EMPIRE" back in the bad old days. Do you really want to be that??

Posted by: battleground51 | April 29, 2010 7:38 AM | Report abuse

I realize that at 12:40am you must be rushing to print, but perhaps you can spare one editor to peruse the article links on your homepage. I was wondering what the Gerson op-ed piece meant, since I have never heard of "Candada".

Posted by: honest_news | April 30, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

I thought we were all living in Greece with the Newsweek we're all socialist nonsense. That kind of ruins the fun. The foundations are where they always were. It's difficult to imagine the feelings of many who suspect that they were victims of a delusion.

You get over that fast or you don't. Time is money. We're not all capitalists though.

Posted by: tossnokia | April 30, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Hey Mr. Ombudsman why aren't you writing about how the Washington Post is wasting precious editorial ink and webspace giving the Arizona bigots and bigot apolgists? Some issues are so self-evident that there are not two sides to the issue (see earth round, not flat....). Would you think it right to give a person space defending Japanese internment during WWII? The Exclusion Act baring Asian and African immigrants? Segregation?

Posted by: HokieAnnie | April 30, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

What makes you think you have a political franshise?? The WaPo has fallen very far from the Watergate days. But if you want to have political franchise, get rid of the wingnuts on your editorial page (at least some of them) and get some editorials by Matt Taibbi, probably the finest political writer of his generation. In other words hire more people who are nearly always right and get rid of the ones who are nearly always wrong.

Posted by: ssfs20007 | May 1, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

I see there is another fool around, screaming for the Post to be more "Fair and Balanced." No doubt, this individual will not be satisfied until the Post, and every other news source in the nation does nothing but parrot the FauxNews party line.

Its been my experience over the last 45+ years that the Post has always leaned toward the liberal side, unless it was cravenly fawning over a new administration, like it did nine years ago. This is just a given and I'd recommend that if the individual would prefer to read something more to his liking, he limit himself to that Moonie rag.

Posted by: mdrockjock | May 1, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Why, if you are looking to run a credible political franchise, do you fail to note that guest columnists have a for profit interest in the subject matter they write about. For examples, the authors of today's column "A Phony Immigration Tool" chair a for-profit lobbying groups.

The author, Mr. Morrison's clientele include numerous pro-illegal immigration groups. The authors, and the Washington Post conveniently fail to mention this anywhere in the article. The authors have a clear, for-profit, agenda. Mr. Morrison earns their living making small error rates seem like momentous problems. How is the reader supposed make an informed judgement as to content absent information like this? Is it because the Washington Post is more concerned with an agenda than objective journalism?

it is not what is in the best interest of the Country, the authors only have the best interest of their bank accounts in mind.

Posted by: hsr143 | May 1, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

superior politics coverage? really? I mean besides constant fawning over Sarah Palin and the Teabaggers and how everything looks awesome for the Republicans - what politics coverage? One would never know that John Ensign is a Senator in the midst of a huge scandal from reading the WaPost's "politics" coverage. You have to go to other media for that.

Posted by: hohandy | May 3, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately,in an attempt to portray iself as "fair and balanced" the Post has become almost as unfair and balanced as the Faux news. Particularly The WaPo has lost its ability to report beyond the talking points provided to its conservative writers. Mr. Will in particular, can't seem to get beyond these talking points. It's not newsworthy to hear the same points on the same day by Faux and Mr. Will.

Posted by: tplocki | May 3, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Here it is again. A clear majority of American citizens wholly approve of the new, Arizona, immigration, enforcement law. Multiple, respected polls show this.

Yet the WaPo continues to trot out every, liberal, editorial writer in its stable to bemoan and decry Arizona's very reasonable attempt to control the flood of illegals that have invaded the state. Arizona has merely made it illegal to be illegal.

The Washington Post seems to think its name is actually "The Mexico City Post" and that its readership is mostly Mexican and illegal.

What bizarro world thought process went in to this business strategy?? It's a recipe for failure.

Posted by: battleground51 | May 3, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

One more thought. The usual, liberal suspects come on and think it's cute to call FOX NEWS...."Faux News". That my be cute in France but this is America.

FOX NEWS may be conservative but it slants 100%, patriotic American. For some reason unknown to liberals, most Americans really like that. It's why FOX is growing and the liberal, news sources are shrinking. People are catching on.

The problem for the WaPo is to be 100%, patriotic American and not lean conservative. Can such a thing be done??

It seems like the Democrat party was able to strike such a balance a long time ago in what, now, seems like a far off place.,

Posted by: battleground51 | May 3, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

It's not what you print but what you don't print as in the 2008 presidential campaign.
You failed miserably to vet the Dem. Pres. nominee and v.p. nominee.

Posted by: Mecarswell | May 4, 2010 6:48 AM | Report abuse

I see that Mr. Brauchli plans to use your "national and international brand" as a differentiator vs. the Politicos of the world.

I would have completely bought into that until I heard Mr. Brauchli himself say last November that "We are not a national news organization of record serving a general audience." I had honestly thought otherwise.

Mr. Brauchli's comment opened my eyes, and since then I've realized that as a reader from outside the local region, the Post offers me only a small fraction of what the New York Times offers me. I'd thought you were competitive as a newspaper of record, but Mr. Brauchli's own statement made me take another look, and realize there was no comparison.

I realize politics is one specific area where you ought to have a sustained competitive advantage, but for this reader at least, your "national and international brand" isn't nearly as powerful as it was even a few short years ago.

Perhaps you had no financial alternative but to scale back your national ambitions, but now that you've done it, some of us out here have definitely noticed.

Posted by: bcamarda2 | May 4, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Alexander:
Your brand re political coverage will not raise in stature anywhere if the people who run the paper, or this new site, continue to put forth articles, and opinions with an over the top evident bias in almost anything even beyond the opinion pages. In all reality, being neither a registered democrat or republican, I look for info that seems more informational than pure opinion spin. Look at your paper and we can all tell before we even read the first word,who will automatically be pro democratic pro Obama anything and nothing will stop them from defending any policy no matter how good or bad or what the average American thinks. I would also like to ask if during the upcoming election cycle are we going to be inundated once again by the well known meme of several writers here that if you don't happen to like something that they being a democratic supporter likes, then racism has to be the reason? Whether it be the paper or your upcoming new political site is there going to be any decent standards for not automatically playing the race card for those of a differing opinion? Is there going to be a standard for actions that the average person would look at as something perhaps objectionable, but find that it is only objectionable to certain political pundits depending on whether the possible offender has an R or D after their name?

Posted by: justmyvoice | May 4, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

The Post is filled ot the brim with Liberal Windbags. Who takes anything they say seriously anymore. I usually drop by each day just to see when they will just rename themselves the Huffington Post and be done with it. MSM, by Liberals and for Liberals. You really have to wonder when this all just finally fade away and the market takes out the trash.

Posted by: skscottkeyes | May 5, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

The WP peaked with Watergate and it's been downhill ever since. Putting NeoCon Fred Hiatt in charge has poisoned the well. The WP can't afford to print Newsweek, but they can hire every Bush hack they can find for the OpEds.

Posted by: AxelDC | May 5, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Still with the head in the clouds, Washington Post? Dio you really think George Will will llet you know what he knows? Not this year.

At least Frank Rich is not on the payrole. And Ms Dowd lkeft a long time ago.

But do not count on a return to "glory days."

They never happened.

The Pentagon Papers was a mistake.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 5, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. Alexander,

I have been watching with some interest the ever so difficult task of sorting through "appropriate" comments from "trash" in a newspaper devoted to both free speech and responsibility. I thought the Post had come up with a good approach.

But I just read the responses to E.J.'s column about David Obey. The word "Nazi" is used. So is "Commy (comunist). It didn't seem like much of a filter was in place. I have no objection to those who believe his approach to government is part of the problem, even though I think their thinking is often misguided. But surely there was a way to keep epithets like that to a minimum.

Well, tomorrow's another day. But for this evening, I get the feeling the Post has been "spammed" and somehow or other, they got through the filter.

With every best wish,

Larry Pray

Posted by: Praytell1 | May 5, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

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