Liberal Washington Post Going Liberal!
Politico 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.