City Desk

More Thoughts on the New, Re-Org’d WaPo

If you see any typos in today's Washington Post, there's a good reason. Very little work went down at the 15th and L HQ yesterday, what with all the chatter about the reorganization plan handed down by the paper's top editors.

Much of the gossip continues to center on the plans of acclaimed Metro columnist Marc Fisher. As reported yesterday, current Assistant Managing Editor for Metro Robert McCartney is sliding into a columnist position, and they'll be hiring yet another one soon. Fisher appears likely to move into another job with the organization, likely as an editor. It's not clear what that position is.

Yet there are many other points of discussion. Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli released the re-org memo to Posties early in the work day and then convened a Town Hall meeting in the afternoon.

Reviews of that session weren't terribly positive. Staffers apparently pelted upper management with questions about exactly how this elaborate new organization would work. The memo, you see, talks about how the paper is creating a "universal desk," to be headed by current top biz editor Sandy Sugawara, that'll shovel all kinds of content from the newsroom onto platforms.

The memo also crowned a new elite tier of editors: Sugawara, Ms. Universal Desk; Kevin Merida, national news commissioner; and Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, local news honcho.

A bunch of other appointments were made as well, filling in editors for sports and business, for example.

Just how all these editors talk to one another is an open question. Another one is how a piece of copy will proceed from conception through filing, editing, and copyediting. Brauchli reportedly conceded that workflow is something that's still going to have to be figured out.

Perhaps the biggest question mark left by the memo relates to the parts of the paper that didn't even get mentioned. Hell, the thing was 1,700 words of detailed, extremely well written blueprints for the new Post. But even at that length, it didn't address news sections such as Style, foreign, and the critical mundo of service journalism, save for a fleeting reference to health coverage. Staffers in those parts of the operation might reasonably wonder if they're even a part of the future.

The official word is that the new structure doesn't affect them too much. Well, if the new structure doesn't affect all those places, how much of a structure is it, really? I know that if a new structure were put in place at my company, I'd want to be invited to the party!

Having noted those pitfalls, the memo came off as a remarkable document, if only because it dares to contemplate an upheaval in an institution wedded to routine and a decades-old management structure. Sure, it'd be great if the bosses knew exactly how a story from the foreign desk will hop around the newsroom before getting posted on washingtonpost.com in the new, "universal" world. And it'd be awesome to know if anyone could ever win a battle with the certain-to-be all-powerful universal desk. With authority over length, copy, and play in the newspaper, that hub is going to be a beast!

But we do know one thing, and that's that the status quo isn't the way to go. If nothing else, this memo articulated a powerful recognition of that point.

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  • Woodstein

    "I know that if a new structure were put in place at my company, I’d want to be invited to the party!"

    A new structure was put in place at your company -- bankruptcy. How's the party going? I'm seeing a lot of typos...

  • Erik Wemple

    Good point, Woodstein.

  • J

    There not bankrupt anymore Woodstein. keep up with the times before you throw stones yourself

    http://dcist.com/2009/03/city_paper_owners_win_bankruptcy_ru.php

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/author/jgardner/ Jule Banville

    Thanks, J, for having our back, but Woodstein is mostly correct. City Paper's owners are still negotiating under Chapter 11 protection. The "win" was for status quo: A judge decided to keep control of over-leveraged Creative Loafing in the hands of its current CEO rather than give it to its main creditors. The two sides now have to work out restructuring and terms of the company and its debt. So the typos, a sure indication of our ballyhooed morale, will keep on a'comin'!

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