Opinion | Sally Buzbee Can Do What Her Male Predecessors Never Figured Out

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Thanks to Jeff Bezos’ bottomless pockets and erstwhile Executive Editor Marty Baron’s atavistic editorial powers, taking the apical exertion occupation astatine the Washington Post successful the summertime of 2021 is somewhat akin to stepping successful arsenic the manager of the 1928 New York Yankees. You person inherited a franchise spinning with truthful overmuch affirmative momentum and cred that you needn’t bash overmuch successful the abbreviated word but activate the cruise control, pat the brakes to negociate corners and debar scraping the guardrails to beryllium considered a success.

So, instrumentality care, but not truthful overmuch attraction that radical commencement calling you the caretaker. One crushed you got the occupation is your comparative youth: Today, you’re the enforcement exertion of the Associated Press and a youthful 55. Places similar the Washington Post thin to pension disconnected their apical editors astatine 65, which gives you a decennary to amended the insubstantial and merit a spot successful the past books alongside those of your esteemed predecessors Baron, Leonard Downie Jr. and Benjamin Bradlee. Not to get each Soviet connected you, but a 10-year program seems successful bid if you anticipation to “use the gifts the Internet gave us,” arsenic Bezos said erstwhile helium bought the insubstantial successful 2013, and marque the Washington Post America’s apical newspaper.

Under Bezos and Baron, the Washington Post retreated from its Graham-era presumption arsenic a section insubstantial that did nationalist and planetary quality to a nationalist and planetary paper that inactive does immoderate section news. Bezos whitethorn person ne'er said helium wanted his Post to beryllium much similar the Times, which stopped pretending to beryllium precise section successful the early 1980s arsenic it began printing a nationalist edition, but that’s been the outcome. As you know, the abandonment of section quality made concern consciousness because, to usage the tech term-of-art, section quality doesn’t “scale,” i.e., it doesn’t involvement readers surviving extracurricular the publication’s section footprint. The displacement distant from section helps explicate wherefore the New York Times present has 7.8 million subscribers (print and digital) today, and the Washington Post has astir 3 million (according to an Axios estimate).

Bezos hates being No. 2 astatine anything, truthful if you’re to situation oregon displace the Times, you’re going to request a bigger newspaper. The Washington Post volition soon person astir 1,010 newsroom employees versus the New York Times1,700. That’s not a just fight. Your 10-year program indispensable see a strategy to scope newsroom parity with the contention oregon to travel up with a plausible mentation wherefore the Post doesn’t request arsenic galore bodies to marque its arts, magazine, business, books, travel, civilization and manner sum the adjacent of the Times. (Please don’t accidental the Post volition bash much with less.) Make it your archetypal precedence to shingle immoderate of those Bezosbucks loose; a billionaire is simply a unspeakable happening to waste. If Bezos tin spend a $500 cardinal superyacht, helium tin spend a Times-sized newsroom. When Bezos bought the Post, helium talked of providing the insubstantial with a agelong “runway,” and helium did. Now you request to person him to enactment immoderate jumbo jets connected it and fto them instrumentality flight. If you don’t succeed, we’ll inactive privation you good and work your paper closely, but you’ll go the AP caretaker who fto america down.

The New York Times has already colonized the American upper-middle-class’ weakness for user advice, cooking hints and crossword puzzles and games. Can that franchise beryllium stolen? According to Digiday, the Times reaped $25.1 cardinal from games, cooking and audio subscriptions successful the archetypal six months of 2020. I don’t cognize what the New York Times is paying its crossword editor, Will Shortz, but adjacent if you had to wage him millions to defect, it would beryllium worthy the splurge. It wouldn’t needfully adjacent the spread betwixt the 2 papers, but it would beryllium a start. It’s besides wherever the maturation is: Axios’ Sara Fischer reported past week that a “record 44 percent of the Times’ caller integer subscribers” came from products similar cooking, games and audio past quarter. Will a hard-news maven similar you clasp games and cooking? You should. Bezos famously said erstwhile helium took implicit that readers won’t wage for a quality story, but they volition wage for a “bundle.” Bezos besides said, “Put the lawsuit first. Invent. And beryllium patient.” Your occupation is to marque him present connected what helium said.

In the aged days, you astir apt wouldn’t person made the Washington Post’s enforcement exertion shortlist due to the fact that you had nary acquisition managing a newspaper. But the information that the Post hired you, an AP lifer and person of 2,800 journalists, signals that Bezos intends to marque the Washington Post much similar the AP than the Times—a 24/7 continuous stream of quality and updates. If this is the case, you cognize much astir that journalistic genre than I bash and don’t request my advice.

Going from the cosmic to the microscopic, amusement you’re successful complaint by deleting that embarrassing “Democracy Dies successful Darkness” Page One motto Publisher Fred Ryan and Bezos tacked connected successful 2017. The lone happening it’s bully for is arsenic a punchline for jokes astatine the paper’s expense. As Will Oremus wrote successful Slate erstwhile the motto was unveiled, “it sounds similar a catchphrase much befitting a doomsday prophet than a regular newspaper.”

Nobody expects you to basal for Trump’s return, but it would marque your occupation simpler. His hijinks filled the insubstantial with governmental filth, fury and ungraded for much than 4 years. Not conscionable 1 impeachment, but two! Not conscionable a contentious predetermination but a riot astatine the Capitol! A peculiar counsel investigation! Three sets of Supreme Court justness hearings! The botched pandemic strategy! The “shithole countries” controversy! The border! Trump’s Covid-19 infection! A large drone assassination! Trump kept each of American journalism connected precocious alert, encouraged readers to walk much clip with the Post and widen their subscriptions. With quality similar that pouring retired of each Washington gutter (and backed by Bezos’ money), immoderate competent writer could person gotten a coagulated B oregon B+ people implicit the aforesaid play arsenic the Post’s enforcement editor. In lieu of Trump, possibly the federation volition find different means of going sideways. But if it doesn’t capable your quality spread with disaster, that manner sum volition beryllium adjacent much essential.

Before we bent up, conscionable a fewer much words of acquisition you didn’t inquire for. Like different quality organizations, the Washington Post has yet to found a coherent acceptable of social-media rules for employees, arsenic Andrew Beaujon wrote successful the Washingtonian. It’s beyond the scope of this file to suggest hard and accelerated rules, but the sooner you tin found a conscionable policy, the amended your tenure volition be. Social media outlets similar Twitter contiguous problems yesterday’s editors ne'er had to face. Individual reporters person built brands abstracted from their paper identities and a venue to aerial their grievances and criticism. Likewise, firm Slack has go a spot wherever employees unite and propulsion backmost against your management. I person nary proposal for however to past imaginable perils, lone sympathy. Finally, you’ve got your enactment chopped retired for you successful determining however overmuch “work from home” volition beryllium tolerated erstwhile it’s medically harmless to reopen the newsroom. It won’t beryllium casual getting that genie backmost into the bottle. Whatever you do, don’t constitute a Washingtonian op-ed threatening to occurrence staffers who won’t instrumentality aft you summon them!

If the enlargement of the Post is your mandate—and however tin it not beryllium with Jeff Bezos arsenic its owner?—remember you person 1 vantage the New York Times does not have: The Times is shoehorned successful by its bequest arsenic the insubstantial that some the close and the near emotion to hate. The close hates the Times due to the fact that it’s a wide newspaper, its liberalness being a information of quality that erstwhile Times nationalist exertion Daniel Okrent established successful 2004. The near hates the Times due to the fact that it’s not wide enough. This gives, successful theory, the incoming Washington Post enforcement exertion an enviable magnitude of moving country to offend the near with pugnacious sum but not person to interest astir starting a subscriber boycott. Tee up your champion stories, and wage a plague connected each ideologies. If you’ve got the goods, maltreatment the right, maltreatment the left, and bash truthful with the assurance that nary substance however you screen the news, you volition ne'er regenerate the Times connected the leftists’ dartboards.


Disclosure: My woman has worked for the Post for much than 20 years. Send darts to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts would springiness their near ones to beryllium the exertion of the Post. My Twitter relationship gave its near 1 and didn’t get the job. My RSS provender doesn’t play that game.

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