The newsroom at The Washington Times is suffering from low morale and a pervading sense of confusion about the future of the organization, say current and former employees -all of whom requested anonymity to speak freely. Over the course of many interviews, including several with employees who were let go during the most recent re-org, a complicated picture emerges: TWT is now a fraction of the size it used to be, with only around 30 newsroom staff, less than half of whom are actual reporters. There is talk from the top of big profits last year and of a New Media-driven renaissance in the next, but the rank and file are anything but inspired. Some are angry, some are hopeful, and some are just keeping their heads down. What can’t be denied is that no one knows what will happen next -no one, that is, except for Editor John Solomon.
One reporter who survived said that while they were happy to have a job, they had “no idea” what Solomon’s next move would be. “We keep hearing that changes are coming in the new year, but no one really knows what changes.”
Whatever he does have in mind for TWT, Solomon is keeping his cards close to his chest. His stated goal is to bring TWT into the 21st century -specifically by replacing the copy desk with a multi-platform universal desk, and by devoting more resources to television, radio, and the web. But as far as what kind of reporter will be needed to carry out his vision, he’s not really saying.
Reporters who were let go expressed confusion over why exactly they had been axed.
“Solomon kept saying things about doing more TV and more online media, ” said one. “Then he mentioned something about needing to do more ‘sourced’ reporting -whatever that means. He also said it wasn’t performance based, but that they wanted to focus less on policy. What am I supposed to make of all that?”
Another fired reporter was likewise flummoxed. “He mentioned the need for having more of a web presence, but we have been putting up web videos. I just put up a video the day before.”
Solomon told us last week that TWT staff had been involved in every step of the re-org process, but our sources paint a different picture. They say that while it’s true that they were told when certain steps would be taken, they were never told what the goal of the re-org was, nor were they given much notice about the changes. The crux of the re-org was a plan to eliminate 12 positions, while creating 25 more, and allowing people whose positions had been eliminated to reapply for the new positions. The managing editors of the newsroom were supposedly the ones who would be making the decisions about who was retained.
But people who went through the process say that the managing editors seemed powerless -making promises that were ultimately contradicted or undermined by Solomon himself. Many felt as if the whole process was rigged, and that they never stood a chance.
“I actually felt good about my prospects after my first meeting with the MEs. They told me that I was probably going to make it,” an axed reporter told us. “But then I was called in again and John said ‘Well, you can probably guess this isn’t good news.’ I just get the impression that he had this plan in mind before he ever came in and was going to get rid of some people no matter what. The whole process was sort of pre-ordained.”
About 4 of the 25 new positions were filled internally, meaning that 21 people from the outside will be coming into the newsroom by January. This will be the clearest indication yet of what Solomon has planned for the TWT. Until then, everyone -including the paper’s own staff -are left guessing what comes next.
FishbowlDC will be reporting more on developments in The Washington Times newsroom as we get more information in, so check back here for updates.