Things are going badly at The Washington Post

It is crackling in the most renowned offices of American journalism. Things have not been going well for the Washington Post for some time. Last year the company suffered a huge loss and had to cut countless jobs. But since the newspaper itself published revelations about the new editor-in-chief this week, it is also clear that the newsroom is on a collision course with the new management. The future editor-in-chief announced Friday that he would resign before officially taking over the position.

The case is illustrative of a cultural gap between American and British ways of doing journalism. What is happening in this journalistic institute?

The Watergate scandal

In 2013, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos took over the ailing Post, the proud Watergate newspaper, the only outlet to ever bring down an American president. The hope was that this tech billionaire would ensure that the sleepy editorial team could finally connect with the 21st century. Because in terms of digitalization and journalistic innovation, the Washington Post lagged behind.

But it gradually seemed as if Bezos lost interest in this project, says media scientist Mark Deuze, who also taught in the United States for a time. Of course, a digital turnaround was not initiated and things quickly got worse, especially after the pandemic.

In the last three years it has lost approximately half of its readers; Last year it suffered a loss of $77 million and had to eliminate 240 jobs. “In addition, some star reporters defected to the main competitor, The New York Timesthat had successfully achieved the transformation from traditional paper to a large digital media brand.”

All of this did not favor the atmosphere in the restaurant. newsroom, thinks Deuze. But since the beginning of this year, that atmosphere has been under high tension, after the British William Lewis was named the new director-editor.

William Lewis, the new editor of The Washington Post.Image AP

Rupert Murdoch’s empire

Bezos believed Lewis was the right person to help the newspaper rise. Lewis previously worked as a manager in Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire, where he was responsible for cleaning up the mess following the phone hacking scandal. Journalists from the Murdoch newspaper participated in this case. World News The phones of numerous celebrities have been raided. Years earlier, Lewis himself served as editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph was involved in paying for a hard drive containing incriminating information on numerous British parliamentarians, triggering a large-scale expenses scandal in 2009.

Earlier this month, Lewis single-handedly named his former British colleague Robert Winnett as the new editor-in-chief of Washington Post, replacing Sally Buzbee. Revealed last weekend The New York Times that he had resigned after a conflict with Lewis, who had wanted to prevent him from publishing about the ongoing lawsuits surrounding the aforementioned wiretapping scandal.

It previously emerged that Lewis had promised an interview to a journalist from US public broadcaster NPR if he did not publish stories about Lewis’s own involvement in the phone hacking scandal.

Listen to celebrities

And last Monday the big blow came. He Mail published a 3,000-word investigative article about its new editor-in-chief Winnett. In the past, as a reporter, it turned out that he had hired a self-proclaimed “thief” to use a trick to obtain an unpublished version of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s biography. Lewis was politely asked for a response, but declined to comment to his own reporters, as the article painfully states.

Behind all this fuss there appears to be a cultural clash between American and British views on journalism. While the American writer generally values ​​ethics highly and will emphasize that it is about the facts and nothing but the facts; The British tabloid does not hesitate to approach it with its leg extended. Deception, payment, eavesdropping on celebrities – American newspaper editors will stay away from this. Definitely a nice newspaper like that. Washington Post.

Now, the above may sound cliché, but it’s largely true, says Deuze. “The British are aggressive and attacking, seeking to undermine the powers that be. They go very far in this sincere journalism. Journalistic ethics takes a backseat there.”

“That’s very different in America,” and Deuze emphatically doesn’t talk about rowdy prime-time talk shows. “Journalists really consider themselves defenders of democracy. American professional identity is related to an ideal of objectivity. “Journalism is a profession of facts and verification, that is what many academic courses in the United States say.”

Relaxed codes for the public good

“Just look at the First Amendment: freedom of the press,” says American Timothy Neff, a former journalist and now professor of journalism at the University of Leicester. “Journalism is the only profession mentioned by name in the United States Constitution. It is, therefore, a vocation, with the express objective of protecting democracy. Americans take this very seriously. He Washington Post itself is not in vain’democracy dies in darkness‘ taken as a subtitle.”

“Research shows that many British journalists say they care about ethics and should always respect them, but they also say there are circumstances in which they are willing to do things that American journalists are less likely to do. In the United Kingdom there are codes of professional ethics, but journalists believe that the rules can be relaxed if the public interest justifies it.”

This underlying cultural difference is only being added now, Deuze thinks, now that the editorial team is already on a collision course with its new British boss. “At first, the editors reacted positively to Lewis’s appointment. They also saw that something had to be done and thought they could use a touch of that direct journalism. But now it has exploded.”

Paralysis of the newspaper in crisis

The Post journalists themselves contacted send their comments to the newspaper’s public relations department, which leaves the emails unanswered. “But if the editors published an investigative article about their own editor-in-chief on the front page, then the atmosphere must be ‘very bad,’” Deuze thinks.

Lewis’s position, and therefore also that of incoming editor-in-chief Winnett, become increasingly unsustainable, was the headline on CNN in recent days. Owner Jeff Bezos attempted to calm things down Wednesday with an internal memo, distributed to the newsroom, in which he supported Lewis but also assured his journalists that “the journalistic standards and ethics ofWashington Post It won’t change.’

Ultimately, it caused a rift between Winnett and the newspaper; On Friday it was announced that the Briton will not be editor-in-chief. In an email to all employees, Lewis said he “regrets to announce” that Winnett “has retired.” He has begun the search for a new candidate.

In any case, the internal noise means the paralysis of the newspaper in crisis. And that’s sad, Deuze thinks. “Because the most important thing for an editorial team to be creative and innovative is a feeling of security. If a journalist takes a risk, he must have the support of his editor-in-chief. But no one has that feeling of security anymore. The charge. “This is tragic for such a fantastic outlet, America’s political newspaper, in such an important election year.”

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