Liberal Washington Post Going Liberal!

washington-post-buildingPolitico continues its recent spate of articles attacking the journalistic practices of its competitors with a piece bemoaning the Washington Post‘s shift leftward, evidenced by the hiring of Ezra Klein, Dave Weigel, and other prominent left-of-center bloggers.

The once-cautious Washington Post has begun to invest heavily in the liberal blogosphere, transforming its online presence — through a combination of accident and design — into a competitor of the Huffington Post and TalkingPointsMemo as much as the New York Times.

The Post’s foray into the new media world received some unfavorable attention last weekend when its latest hire, Dave Weigel, who covers conservatives, referred to gay marriage foes as “bigots.” But the resulting controversy brought into relief a larger shift: The Post now hosts three of the strongest liberal blogs on the Internet, and draws a disproportionate share of its traffic and buzz from them, a significant change for a traditional newspaper that has struggled to remake itself.

Besides Weigel, who came from the liberal Washington Independent, the Post also has Ezra Klein, hired last May from the American Prospect to bring his brand of deliberately wonky policy writing to its website; and Greg Sargent, who the paper said Tuesday will soon move to the Post itself after coming from TPM to run a political blog for the Post-owned website, WhoRunsGov.com, as well as two editors recently hired from the Huffington Post to handle online aggregation and strategy.

Post National Editor Kevin Merida said the Post is simply trying to respond to the demands of a new online audience.   “The web is a place where people want to come to the news of the day and developments in the political world and public policy from different vantage points, so you’re trying to offer people online a pretty robust smorgasbord,” he said, noting that the paper — sharply criticized from the left for its support for the Iraq war and other editorial opinions — has always carried opinion columns.   “The blogging space is a unique space between reporting and commentary,” he said, describing Weigel as working in “the same way [Fix blogger] Chris Cillizza does, the same way Ezra does — at the intersection of politics and policy.”

Ezra Klein weighs in:

But it’s not, as Smith suggests, a story of ideology (though Tucker Carlson and David Frum might tell you that conservative publications place less emphasis on reporting and that accounts for why liberals and libertarians have gotten the first of these jobs), or even corporate strategy. Small magazines adopted blogs early because they were desperate for an entryway into daily reporting. Newspapers, for obvious reasons, were less concerned. But as newspapers got more concerned, they’ve hired the bloggers trained at small magazines because those bloggers report and write in a way that traditional media organizations recognize.

The media isn’t so much changing as repackaging, and my guess is that five or 10 years from now, there will be a lot of bloggers doing analytical reporting and everyone will agree that that was just a natural process of adaptation to a faster medium with a more elite readership and no space constraints. Those who’re inclined to more structuralist explanations will says that as the flow of information sped up and opinions multiplied there was more demand for reported, analytical content that helped people make sense of it all.

The first wave of these folks came from small magazines that have a more opinionated bent, but the second wave will come from inside newspapers and online publications that play it a bit straighter. But it won’t be, and isn’t now, a story of ideology. It’s a story of technological change, and the way in which new markets first get served by marginal players and then get swallowed up by established institutions.

People forget that the business of journalism is business.  Hiring respectable bloggers with very high traffic levels — which was certainly the case with Klein — is just bowing to reality.  Especially when one considers that the Washington Post is losing money by the truckload, showing “an operating loss of $163.5 million in 2009, compared to an operating loss of $192.7 million in 2008” and only manages to stay in business — if you want to call it that — thanks to the huge subsidy provided by Kaplan Testing.

Ultimately, this is just a further consolidation of the Power Laws model that Clay Shirky was propounding just as I was launching OTB.   The highest traffic bloggers are getting scooped up by the mainstream media or other big entities and further consolidating their power.   And, for reasons Ezra explains, that mostly means left-of-center bloggers are going to be hired, because they’re much more apt to write in a style which makes the major media companies comfortable.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steve Plunk says:

    Knowing their business model is failing doesn’t inspire confidence in their hiring choices. I doubt the bloggers will bring much income regardless of the traffic they may generate.

  2. JKB says:

    And, for reasons Ezra explains, that mostly means left-of-center bloggers are going to be hired, because they’re much more apt to write in a style which makes the major media companies comfortable.

    So this sentence is true:

    The once-cautious Washington Post has begun to invest heavily in the liberal blogosphere, transforming its online presence — through a combination of accident and design — into a competitor of the Huffington Post and TalkingPointsMemo as much as the New York Times.

    A newspaper really isn’t much outside of the writers it employs and the way it reports news. By choosing a side by accident or design, WP is redefining itself as a left of center rag. One hopes the move is based on more than desperation for an online presence. Unfortunately, being the leftist paper of record isn’t bringing the NYT huge profits but then when you oppose capitalism can you really justify profiting from it?

  3. James Joyner says:

    By choosing a side by accident or design, WP is redefining itself as a left of center rag.

    I think it’s just a matter of wanting proven bloggers who can generate substantial pageviews without embarrassing the paper.

  4. Stan says:

    When the medical insurance debate opened in 2007 I knew virtually nothing about the subject. I knew that Great Britain had a National Health Plan and that the French government ran a plan for the whole populace similar to Medicare. I didn’t even know that there was a third alternative to the present US system, the one used by the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was all Greek to me.

    By and large, the mainstream American press did nothing to enlighten me during the primaries, during the campaign for the presidency, and even during the struggle in Congress. I read many breathless accounts of how the votes were going and what important members of Congress were saying, but I saw virtually nothing about how the individual mandate would work, about the magnitude of the tax increases needed to fund the various bills under consideration, and how the bills treated Medicaid. Television was worthless, and the daily and weekly press wasn’t much better.

    The only notable exceptions to this dismal coverage came from bloggers, particularly Ezra Klein, Jonathan Chait, and the writers of the Prescriptions blog in the Times and of the health care blog run by Kaiser. They deserve enormous credit, and I’m glad to see that Klein in particular is flourishing. The amazing thing is that he accomplished so much with no particular expertise in medical economics or in political reporting. Virtually alone in the press corps, he assumed his readers were adults. Alas, I don’t see many people following his example.

  5. DL says:

    Why use present tense? Like the Rinos in the GOP, some of us knew they were liberal for decades. Just like the spouse who only occasionally stays loyal to journalistic ethics – they’ve shown their true colors at the most opportune times.

  6. UlyssesUnbound says:

    Unfortunately, being the leftist paper of record isn’t bringing the NYT huge profits but then when you oppose capitalism can you really justify profiting from it?

    Man what an astute analysis, grounded in reality. Of course the New York Times’s revenue loss must be because they are lefty pinkos. There could be no other explanation. Especially when those capitalism loving, freedom humping, conservative newspapers are making money hand over fist.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    I don’t see the WP so much as being liberal as reflecting the prevailing Washington wisdom. That the prevailing Washington wisdom should have drifted somewhat to the left should have been obvious over the last year or so and I’m not surprised that the Post is adapting to that.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    For such a supposedly liberal newspaper, the Post has Kathleen Parker, Michael Gerson, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, George Will, and Marc Thiessen for what, exactly? Sh*ts and giggles, perhaps…

  9. Grewgills says:

    AIP,
    RINOs, not a real conservative in that lot;)

  10. anjin-san says:

    Unfortunately, being the leftist paper of record isn’t bringing the NYT huge profits but then when you oppose capitalism can you really justify profiting from it?

    Ignorant blather from the right. Now there is something you don’t see every day 🙂