The Troubled Times at The Washington Examiner
It used to be that in order to survive in the corridors of powers in the local journo establishment you had to work all sides of the aisles – politics, lobbying and the press. But these days, going by the goings-on at The Washington Examiner newspaper, the turnstiles are all about going back and forth between the same employers, or jumping ship even before the vessel has sailed.
Take the famed Pentagon ace Rowan Scarborough as an example. He was a star correspondent for years at the Washington Times snagging exclusives-after-exclusives (he had one yesterday splashed across the top of the front page) but then he got sucked into the Examiner by the newly-minted editor, Stephen Smith (whose married to the more prolific and more successful Vanity Fair chronicler Sally Smith who takes him around the party circuit) and he quit the Times to go work for The Examiner. Part of the deal also was to get his columns to run nationally on the Examiner website (more on that later) and promote a book he was putting to bed.[PIC CAPTION: Rowan Scarborough's stint at the Examiner was marred by sloppy copy editing and constant clashes with the ME on when to post stories to the web. One day Exec Editor Steve Smith clashed with the online desk on posting Scarborough's stories. The next day Scarborough's desk was empty.]
The honeymoon barely lasted a few months. Sloppy editing of his stories across town where the copy desk sits in Virginia editing both the DC and Baltimore papers, constant clashes with the then Managing Editor, and a showdown with Steve Smith over placement of hot stories on the web, and one fine morning, the newsroom found his desk empty. Rowan had had enough, and he bolted.
After a sabbatical, Scarborough has resurfaced to helm the Pentagon coverage for his old employer: The Washington Times.
He's not the only one not to get a goodbye from Smith and his entourage. Ace Capitol Hill reporter Charlie Hurt also had a turbulent time with Smith at the Examiner. He lasted there but a few months even though his Pork coverage ranked high in online traffic for the paper's website and left without a goodbye party.Not to mention that more than a dozen staffers since Smith took over have quit took over his management style and people began to complain about his mercurial ways and short-temper bursts and quirky monday morning quarterbacking in daily editorial meetings where he's known to shoot suspenders and plot strategy to defeat the online powers-that-be in Denver that run the online arm of the paper. Among Smith's new hires was also a New York-based investigative reporter but the ink was barely dry on his pieces that soon he too was gone. No word on why he left.
But more than anything, Smith's relationship with the then-Managing Editor Nicholas Horrock spoke volumes of the fractures within the newsroom. Just a few months after Smith cemented his boots on the table, he trained his guns on Horrock and he was one of the earlier casualties of the Smith weapon about to be unleashed on the newsroom. Horrock was essentially fired for speaking up against his boss (and sometimes taking power cat naps at his desk). Soon thereafter a bevy of editors left the editing operations in Virginia where a editor was dispatched from the newsroom to clean up copy (and the mess). He also soon departed taking a couple of eds with him. On some days there are a couple of eds scurrying to bed both the DC and Baltimore editions and using AP copy to fill the pages seems the most likeliest exit.[PIC CAPTION: Charlie Hurt didn't last long enough to make an impression but his stories did get a lot of impressions on the website.] Rubbing elbows with the online team – headed by a now-deposed Dave Schafer who ran the online operations from Denver with three editorial types including Gil Asakawa who was popularly nicknamedDave's Garage Door Opener
– was a royal treat for Smith who rallied against the online team on a daily basis inside the newsroom. Often jockeying for more power to control the online version of the local paper, he found himself at loggerheads with senior Denver management on how best to position local content getting to an excruciating low by cutting off content access to the Denver online team from the local eds. Things got so heated between him and the online team that he cut the cord with Denver. For a while there was a logo for the paper and right next to it a globe-trotting new logo for the online edition that appeared in the paper. Today, you only see one logo on the paper. The globe's been replaced by a link to a local online site he's reportedly developing called DCExaminer.com. So, in a nutshell, you've got a publication within a publication. If you belong to the Denver camp, you visit examiner.com. If you belong to the Smith camp, you visit dcexaminer.com. Nowhere is what more visible than on the website where the co-existing Israeli-Palestinian accord has been carved out where both staffers for examiner.com and dcexaminer.com learn to co-habit. Of course, they don't like talking to each other.
Smith is known to hire cronies and seldom does he like to venture beyond favoritism. There is no meritocracy when it comes to hiring. After Horrock was shown the door, Smith hired a former colleague from the Austin newspaper he felt compelled to leave to take on the job. Michael Hedges, a notorious web-basher , was hired as a hatchet man who put the brakes on any support to the Denver online team. Few weeks into his job, Hedges began to roll back any promises the desk made to the online team in Denver to post stories during the day and also began to question the reach and readership of the online edition as a justification to put the web initiative on the back burner.
Lets just put it this way, said a Denver staffer who quit in disgust: They're not FOOLs out there in DC. By FOOLs just what did he mean? "Friends Of On Line," he quipped as he drove of to a restaurant.
[PIC CAPTION: Mike Hedges was known by Denver as a notorius web-basher.]
[PIC CAPTION: Then-Publisher Herb Maloney, Patrick Gavin, Executive Editor Vivienne Sosnowski and Jeff Dufour back in the heydays. Maloney quit in no time, Sosnowski was sent upstairs to corporate and the Y&N gossip guys rarely cover the shenanigans within the paper. Pic courtesy of Washington Life. ]
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