Ed Driscoll

How the Washington Post was Lost

That’s an awfully melodramatic title Ross Douthat or his editor stuck on top of his latest column, considering that the Post will continue in some form. At the very least, Jeff Bezos bought the brand name; and presumably, a fair number of journalists and editors will continue to work there. Particularly since they’ve been given Bob Woodward’s blessing:

This isn’t Rupert Murdoch buying the Wall Street Journal, this is somebody who believes in the values that the Post has been prominent in practicing, and so I don’t see any downside.

In other words, the politics of the Post won’t change, despite the fact that it’s the politics of the Post that destroyed it. (See also: the juiceboxers’ attacks on Woodward himself.)

Douthat writes, “it’s possible to date the moment when that opportunity [to salvage the Post] slipped away: it happened in 2006, when John Harris and Jim VandeHei left The Post to found Politico:”

Now, there are many reasons a publication like Politico was easier to build from scratch than it would have been to create inside a traditional, cost-burdened institution. But that’s also hindsight talking: from the vantage point of 2006, VandeHei and Harris looked like gamblers, and The Post’s grip on what the press critic Jack Shafer called the “political news from Washington” beat still seemed secure.

Today, though, it’s Politico rather than The Post that dominates the D.C. conversation, Politico rather than The Post that’s the must-read for Beltway professionals and politics junkies everywhere, and Politico rather than The Post that matches the metabolism of the Internet.

I say this as someone who doesn’t particularly like the Politico style or the role it plays in our gilded capital, and who misses The Post as it was when I arrived in Washington. But nostalgia is for columnists, not publishers: Politico has claimed a big part of the audience that The Post needed in order to thrive in the world the Internet has made.

That’s why I’m skeptical of the various theories about how The Post’s new genius owner might invent some new way to deliver content or bundle news or otherwise achieve a profitable synergy between his newspaper and Amazon.

Maybe such a synergy exists. But it’s more likely that the best thing Jeff Bezos can offer his paper is more old-fashioned: the money and resources necessary to take back territory lost to a sharp-elbowed competitor.

What Bezos can deliver, in other words, is a newspaper war, with clear and pressing stakes. For The Post to thrive again, Politico must lose.

But whatever happens going forward, unless some sort of dramatic change occurs, the reader will continue to be screwed, no matter who wins.

Related: Elsewhere at PJM, Tom Blumer on “America’s Three Worst Pravda Press Organizations.”