Will The Washington Post Survive?

Washington Post ombudsman Andy Alexander’s column on Dan Froomkin ends with the observation that “With his loyal followers, he’ll survive. So will The Post.” I’m not certain that the Post won’t survive, but like Brad DeLong I don’t think it makes a ton of sense for Post employees to be that confident that the paper will survive either.

The Post employs a lot of people, and a lot of those people are very good. But if you think about a highly-competitive digital marketplace, it’s not obvious to me that the thing as a whole is nearly good enough to survive. I think it’s clear at this point that most American newspapers are too small to survive in traditional newspaper form—people will presumably continue to want news about Cleveland and about Ohio, but they won’t also get their national and international news from that local news source. The New York Times works as a fully globalized English-language news media outlet. So does the BBC, the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, and maybe a few others. Is the Washington Post in that league? Maybe, but maybe not.

You could imagine a very pared-down version of the Post competing with Politico and Roll Call and The Hill and National Journal and CQ as offering niche non-ideological coverage of Beltway politics. But do we really need five publications like that? And would something scaled-back to that level really count as The Washington Post we know today? I don’t think the answers to these questions are totally obvious. Dan Froomkin, by contrast, pretty clearly will survive.