The July 5 Columbia Journalism Review article by Mariah Blake (“Something fishy?” CJR, July/August) contains numerous factual errors that are detrimental to the reputation of The Washington Times, its former editor John Solomon, and its outside Web designer Roger Black. Although the primary thrust of the article relates to the Center for Public Integrity, the lead section is focused on Solomon’s tenure at The Washington Times. Blake’s biased and derogatory descriptions of the Times are unfortunate, but not the subject of this letter. We request that CJR retract and correct the five following errors:
- 1. Blake inaccurately reported that Web traffic dropped after Solomon took over as editor in January. In fact, the newspaper’s official measurements from Omniture show that Web pageviews and unique visitors steadily rose, with pageviews more than tripling between January 2008 and November 2009. The story also quoted four current and former Times officials saying “the paper’s aging readership found the site trying to navigate, and traffic plunged.” This information is not supported in fact. During 2009, washingtontimes.com was consistently in the top 25 US newspaper websites in pageviews. Of significant importance, the company’s washingtontimes.com website redesigned by Roger Black was awarded a Webby as one of the top five news websites in 2009.
- 2. Blake erroneously alleges that Solomon’s stewardship of the newsroom created financial hardship for the newspaper and led to its financial problems. In fact, the newspaper’s financial condition improved during his tenure as a result of numerous successes Solomon and others initiated throughout the company. These were in large part a result of a strategic transition that began in spring 2007 to move The Washington Times from a Washington-based newspaper company serving the nation’s capital to a national multimedia company serving much wider audiences. Specifically, newsroom costs shrunk about 10 percent during Solomon’s tenure, due to numerous efficiencies, and were consistently held below the management-approved budget. Digital revenues more than doubled in 2009 after Solomon took responsibility for this area. Several new channels for revenue generation along with cost improvements were achieved through companywide efforts that improved the long-term outlook for The Washington Times. Solomon contributed a unique, productive, and positive role as a member of our leadership team in executing these change initiatives both in the newsroom and throughout the company.
- 3. Blake’s story fundamentally distorts the nature of several entrepreneurial efforts initiated at The Washington Times. As CJR surely understands, it is imperative for media companies to experiment with new ways of serving audiences and generating value. Some of the company’s initiatives, which started during Solomon’s tenure, reached break-even status in their first year, and other long-term projects—like the radio show America’s Morning News—were investment strategies that were expected to break even and become profitable over an extended period of time. This is a normal business process, and it is wrong to suggest that these initiatives were failures. In fact, the new radio show had grown to more than 50 markets in its first six months of existence in 2009, exceeding our expectations. We refer you to the summer 2009 cover story of Talkers Magazine as evidence.
- 4. Blake’s story inaccurately claims that Solomon installed a TV studio inside the newsroom. In fact, the decision to create the studio and the contract for equipment were set in motion by the Times’s marketing department well before Solomon accepted the job as editor. Solomon was directly involved with the team that created a new radio studio from which America’s Morning News was broadcast.
- 5. Blake’s story inaccurately reports that Solomon proposed an initiative to start a “Central Asia Wire.” In fact, this idea was brought to the Times from an outside contractor through our international sales division. At the time of Solomon’s departure, the company was still evaluating the concept, and neither he nor senior management had approved the idea. The deal wasn’t approved until more than a month after Solomon’s departure, when new managers were running the company.
Mariah Blake (or any other CJR reporter) did not contact the president and/or the CFO to verify if her claims in the article were accurate, which is basic due diligence. Instead, the writer used comments from an unauthorized Times person with no firsthand knowledge of the company’s financial situation. Because Blake’s journalistic errors are damaging to the reputation of The Washington Times and its current and past employees, and because your publication’s mission is to encourage excellence in journalism, we respectfully request that the Columbia Journalism Review correct the record.
Thomas P. McDevitt
The Washington Times