Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Washington Post: "Entitled, Fancy Pants" Metro Enablers

This is about The Washington Post. I think it's germane to this blog because I see the Post as complicit in Metro's decline. From what I can tell, they've forfeited their watchdog role and abdicated their responsibility to cover what should be a franchise beat for them.

They did break the big credit card fraud story, right?

And yesterday, the Post regurgitated a blog post from January 2011 about selling naming rights for station. Back then there was at least a news peg!

Maybe it's all a coincidence.

Anyway, I'll let someone familiar with the Post's local coverage tell you what's really going on over at the fourth estate:
The Washington Post local section has 80 reporters, yet if you look at who is aggressively turning over rocks in the D.C. region it's people like you, the City Paper, the Washington Times and even the Examiner, all of whom have only a fraction of the people.

If you FOIA the FOIA logs of any agency, those are the organizations that pop up. There is simply not a culture of the journalist as the aggressive watchdog in The Washington Post local.

It is an entitled, fancy-pants attitude where you're at the Post, so you are the esteemed arbiter of the D.C. region, and therefore aren't playing the almost antagonistic, adversarial role.

People also leak things to the Post because it has the largest audience, which makes them lazy, so even if they do something that seems like watchdogging, it's usually actually spoon-fed.

In fact, the Post's editorial board has tacitly acknowledged the local staff's absolute rejection of an investigative outlook, and made the unusual step of filling the gap.

Look at the Jim Graham (including Metro redevelopment) stuff they've been doing, the DC campaign finance, DYRS stuff, and Colby King and Joanne Armeo stuff.

They're straight-up doing the original reporting that 80 reporters formerly under the leadership of XXXXXXX, a copy editor and sports nut who had never worked in daily hard news, and now XXXXXXXX, who just moved here, has absolutely no grasp of the region, and won't.

Specifically on the transportation team, which is about five people, these problems are much worse.

The boss, XXXXXXXX, literally was lining up boxes for the TV guide pages in Miami when he was hired to do similar production work collating the magazine. He demonstrated intense work ethic and attention to detail in that kind of work--lining up text in boxes, putting graphics next to them and getting them to the printer on time--to a degree that he eventually transferred into an assigning editor's job, but based on his background, he is far more of a "manager" than an "editor."

There is no culture of coming up through the hard-scrabble authority-challenging reporter ranks.

The directive, then, is to cover Metro the same way a layout person works slot or the copy desk: Be punctual, complete, exhaustive, churn copy. Write up EVERY little nugget pertaining to Metro, even itemizing the times and location of every public input meeting in prime page inches.

You're the snooty Post, so naturally you're going to talk to the general manager, not the lowly workers in various departments who could be cultivated as sources.

If you pick up the B section of the paper, you will see that there are actually a disproportionate number of transportation stories. On any given day the section front might include a story about the ICC, the Purple Line, Dr Gridlock, and a story about Metro. What this is actually indicative of is a lack of news judgment.

XXXXXXXXX is like a robot conveying all this stuff, pretty aggressively, and without thought to whether some people even care about the day-to-day stuff.

Online, meanwhile, the Dr Gridlock blog is updated many times a day with the most fast-breaking, fleeting service disruptions, even though there are better mechanisms than the major print daily for keeping tabs on that kind of minutiae for the people that want it.

If there's something negative about Metro in the Post, it's usually only because board members enumerated some complaints at a public meeting, and they wrote down the remarks of those top officials.

Of course, when you're getting immense pressure from someone widely known as the least-friendly editor in the newsroom to do this day in, day out, you are not, as you've written, going to risk pissing off Dan Stessel, because regurgitating mindlessly whatever he tells you is 99 percent of the job, and there is no one in charge giving you the idea that maybe you should be pushing back.

XXXXXX is known as the worst [person] at the Post to work for, so people don't want to volunteer for the job, even though covering a major transit system is on its face more appealing than being out in Loudoun County or something. Reporters will try to get moved elsewhere, and the ensuing vacancy will not be volunteered for by anyone. The person who winds up there is not coming into the beat, therefore, wide-eyed with anticipation and interested in the subject.
Sounds like a great place to work! Heck of a job Postie.

Other items:
Speak out against sexual harassment on Metro
Oops! More waste and incompetence (PDF/WMATA)
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