Reality Bites

More promotional ideas for The Washington Post

The Washington Post yesterday announced its “America’s Next Great Pundit” contest, in which ten amateur columnists will compete for a tentative and poorly-paid thirteen-week slot on the Post’s op-ed page. The reality-TV-style contest is the latest in a string of curious editorial and promotional decisions by the Post. What’s next for the newspaper?

Newsroom Survivor: Ten reporters are set loose in the Post newsroom and tasked with sticking around for as long as possible without being laid off, reassigned, or forced to appear on an unfunny Web video segment. Watch as participants employ survival strategies such as hiding, marrying up, or impersonating Bob Woodward. The last reporter standing wins a thirteen-week contract and a full set of Kaplan LSAT prep books.

Who Wants to Marry Fred Hiatt?: Twelve readers compete for the heart and hand of oft-maligned editorial page editor Fred Hiatt. Contestants will engage in a series of editorially daring tasks—such as contradicting your own paper’s reporting, and letting dubious statements about global warming pass without comment—in order to ascertain which one most deserves the privilege of marrying Fred Hiatt for a period of thirteen weeks. Readers who were once or are currently married to Fred Hiatt are not eligible.

The Apprentices: Fifty civilians are given prestigious, unpaid Post internships and set to work producing a daily newspaper. Each week their tasks get more difficult as another round of salaried and experienced employees gets laid off or bought out. Watch the hilarity as the apprentices guilelessly quote press secretaries, insert themselves into stories, and report on events by watching them on television. There are no winners in this contest.

Impartial Idol: Wear your emotions on your sleeve? Then you wouldn’t fare well at Impartial Idol, in which ten Post reporters are sent to a series of exciting events and tasked with remaining as neutral as possible throughout. In the first episode, the reporters attend a raucous rock concert, and one of them is sent home for inadvertently tapping his toe to the beat, thus implying enjoyment of the music, thus suggesting biased reporting, thus destroying the Post’s credibility. (The challenge is won by the reporter who smartly refrains from attending the concert in the first place.) The ultimate winner will be laid off thirteen weeks later than the runners-up.

I Live in Georgetown, Get Me Out of Here!: For thirteen exciting weeks, ten top Post execs will leave their corner offices and live like entry-level reporters in a rickety Columbia Heights group house. Web visitors will watch as the execs struggle to produce multiple print pieces and blog posts per day while surviving on a ramen-and-pizza diet; sparks will fly when the rest of the housemates berate Marcus Brauchli for hogging the bathroom. All ends well as the executives go back to their townhouses, and the entry-level positions are eliminated for lack of resources.

The Next Top Bad Idea: Fifteen readers offer their suggestions for what should be the Post’s next terrible promotional idea. Each week, Post editors will test-drive the contestants’ horrible ideas—like “Weekend at Perry Bacon’s”, where readers compete to win a dream vacation at political reporter Perry Bacon’s one-bedroom apartment; or “Nothing But Garfield,” in which the Post’s reported articles are replaced by hundreds of Garfield comic strips. Each week, the idea that draws the most blogosphere scorn will be eliminated; the winner receives a thirteen-week stint as the Post’s publisher and a $500,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to further pursue their vision of how to save journalism.

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.