Opacity Rules at Washington Times
The Washington Times has historically placed a real low value on transparency. For years, the place ran corrections only at gunpoint. It was nearly impossible to get newsroom leaders on the line to defend their journalism, a task that often required going through a flak and then getting a "no comment."
Editor John Solomon changed a lot of that. Having taken over the newsroom in early 2008, he was not only easy to get on the phone, but he'd talk your ear off, evangelizing about this great new initiative or that one.
Yet he's not helping too much on the great unanswered question of this new round of weirdness at the Times.
Where is he? Why hasn't he shown up after the Sunday/Monday firings of the paper's top execs?
And current management isn't helping too much with the info flow. At a staff-wide meeting on Monday, new top dog Jonathan Slevin reportedly asked staffers to refer media calls to the PR ace that the Times had hired. Way to act on industry principles, Slevin: Reporters and editors should never be asked to refer calls to anyone; that's the very behavior that they rightly declaim every single day.
Anyhow, the freedom-of-expression-chilling request of Slevin has meant business for Don Meyer of Rubin Meyer Communications. Meyer has been in the PR biz for about 20 years and has worked for the Times going back about five.
Here's a Q&A with one smooth newspaper mouthpiece:
Question for Don Meyer: What's up with Solomon?
Don Meyer response: I don’t have any updates on his status at this time. When additional information becomes available, I will be happy to pass it along to you.
Question for Don Meyer: So is he resigning or something?
Don Meyer response: I am sorry to do this to you, but I don’t have any information on his stautus right now.
Question for Don Meyer: Does anybody have that information?
Don Meyer response: Somebody does.
Question for Don Meyer: How many inquiries have you gotten about the Washington Times?
Don Meyer response: Quite a few...I've received a dozen calls.
Question for Don Meyer: Were you aware that management advised reporters and editors in yesterday's meeting not to answer media calls and to route inquiries to you?
Don Meyer response: Oh yeah, I wasn’t aware that he said it in the meeting, but my guidance to him was that media calls be directed to me.
Question for Don Meyer: Why should all media calls be directed to you?
Don Meyer response: Because they have decided to utilize me as appointed spokesperson for this particular announcement and so they have asked me to handle it. It ensures that everyone gets the information from a reliable source.
Statement to Don Meyer: That seems to run contrary to the spirit of a newsroom.
Don Meyer repartee: Listen, this is actually how a lot of organizations handle sensitive announcements, which is they want one spokesperson speaking to the media, and it tends to be an accepted practice in corporate and organizational settings.
Statement to Don Meyer: Right, and again, it runs contrary to the spirit of a newsroom.
Don Meyer repartee: The newsroom might not have the latest information involving the executive situation and may not be the best source of information anyway.
Pause in interview to ponder that last Don Meyer comment: Way to keep the newsroom in the loop, Washington Times!
Question for Don Meyer: What do you think of John Solomon?
Don Meyer response: I think he’s a very capable journalist. He's done great things for the Washington Times.
Question for Don Meyer: Will he continue doing those great things?
Don Meyer response: When I have more information on the status of John Solomon vis-a-vis the Washington Times, I will be happy to pass it along.
Question for Don Meyer: So is the financial state of the paper the cause of the uncertain status of John Solomon?
Don Meyer response: I gotta give you credit for trying, but honestly I don’t have any additional information.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery