The editors respond: Most of the facts that Thomas McDevitt has called into question are drawn from interviews with high-level Washington Times sources. Those sources are known to CJR, and they had full access to corporate information. In one circumstance, our writer misinterpreted what the sources said. Contrary to McDevitt’s assertions, meanwhile, Mariah Blake attempted to give the paper the opportunity to weigh in prior to publication. In particular, she requested an interview with CFO Keith Cooperrider. He did not respond. Concerning the five points McDevitt raises:
- 1. Our reporter misinterpreted the statements of sources who told her that the new site was highly unpopular among The Washington Times’s aging readership. While this was, in fact, the case, traffic did not fall when the site was introduced. On the contrary, it rose. The website that the paper had in place before Solomon’s arrival was rarely updated, whereas the new site posted stories regularly and was ambitiously marketed. It is worth noting that the site was redesigned again in 2010. Meanwhile, for what it’s worth, washingtontimes.com was not “awarded a Webby as one of the five top news sites in 2009.” The site was neither a winner nor one of the five nominees (finalists), in either the news or the newspaper category. It was one of seven “honorees,” equivalent to an honorable mention, in the newspaper category. (The BBC won in the news category and The Guardian took the newspaper website category that year.)
- 2. McDevitt’s assertion that Solomon’s tenure was marked by “numerous successes” is directly contradicted by multiple high-level sources with knowledge of the paper’s finances. Most of the other criticisms raised under this point do not deal directly with the facts in the story. For instance, nowhere in the piece is it alleged that Solomon’s stewardship of the newsroom caused the Times’s financial problems. (On the contrary, the story states that the crisis was triggered by the Moon family feud, and the subsequent clampdown on subsidies.) The story says only that, according to current and former Times officials, money-losing projects launched during Solomon’s tenure “contributed” to the paper’s decline after subsidies were cut in 2009.
- 3. We appreciate the importance of news organization being entrepreneurial and understand that launching new ventures is inherently risky. But according to our sources, not all of the problems these projects ran into were the result of ordinary startup challenges. In the case of America’s Morning News, the paper signed a contract committing it to paying an outside syndicator $1.2 million a year, for three years. Despite reaching dozens of markets, the show didn’t deliver anywhere near that sum in ad revenue for the paper (a fact that has also been reported by The Washington Post). The agreement, which multiple high-level sources called “disastrous” for the Times, appears to have been part of a pattern of basing decisions on overly ambitious financial targets.
- 4. Washington Times officials told our reporter that it was Solomon who championed the television studio, and Solomon took at least partial credit for the project in interviews. For example: When Blake asked him to list the initiatives he launched at the paper, he said, “We created a TV studio after I got there.” But Solomon did note later in the conversation that the idea had been discussed before his arrival. On reflection, the author should have made it clear that the initiative was not Solomon’s alone.
- 5. This point does not accurately characterize the facts of the story. Nowhere in the piece is it alleged that Solomon proposed launching the Central Asia Newswire. The story says only that the project was among those “Solomon and the business staff” were planning before the 2009 shakeup. CJR has reported previously on Solomon’s role in laying groundwork for this venture—among other things, he was apparently responsible for assigning the newswire’s lone reporter to his post. Please see “News for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
In the July/August issue, Darts & Laurels incorrectly implied that Winston-Salem Journal reporter John Railey broke the story of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program by himself. He was part of a team of reporters that produced the 2002 series, “Against Their Will.”