Editor’s note: Every Sunday Fortune publishes a favorite story from its magazine archives. This week, we turn to a 1944 feature on the evolution of The Washington Post, D.C.’s gold-standard news source for several generations. On August 5, The Washington Post Co. (WPO) announced that it had sold its flagship paper and several of its local newspapers to Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million, marking the start of a new chapter in the paper’s impressive history.
When Oswald Garrison Villard, that tireless critic of American journalism, surveyed the newspaper field in Washington in the early twenties, he summed it up in the phrase, “a capital without a Thunderer.” He found the newspapers “timid” and “provincial,” and so inadequate in presenting the news that the citizen desiring information of events originating in Washington was compelled to buy a New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore daily. Besides his disappointment with the then existing picture, Mr. Villard expressed doubt “whether it would ever he possible to have in Washington a really national newspaper.”
Taking a new look at journalistic Washington recently, Mr. Villard found the situation sharply changed; in contrast to the previous barrenness he found the city had acquired “a newspaper in which it takes genuine pride, whose influence is growing so steadily that it has to be watched day by day by the White House as well as by the members of Congress and the higher officeholders.” It was a newspaper, moreover, that had “earned the hearty respect of the newspapermen … and made notable contributions to the national welfare.” No qualified judge had ever said anything like that about a Washington paper before.
The newspaper that had Mr. Villard rubbing his eyes was the Washington Post, the creation not of any experienced genius in publishing, hut of Eugene Meyer, who acquired the paper at fifty-seven after a distinguished career in banking. What Mr. Meyer has done with the Post is all the more creditable for having been accomplished in one of the most fiercely competitive newspaper cities in the U.S. Washington has five dailies (counting the round-the-clock Times-Herald as two) against only three for most cities of this size, and they are none of them fly-by-nights.
The Star, favorite advertising medium of the merchants and unoffending compendium of local news, dominates the afternoon field hands down. Editorially, the Star is not merely independent but colorless, reserving its sharpest barbs for such evils as the careless motorist, vandalism against the wildflower, and, of course, the Hun and the Jap. The Daily News, Scripps-Howard’s afternoon tabloid, started out under Lowell Mellett as voice and prophet of the New Deal but is now strongly anti-Roosevelt. Although capably edited, the paper has had tough sledding; nearly half its papers are bought to be read at lunchtime or on the bus or trolley.
“Cissie” Patterson publishes the Times-Herald, with the news services, features, and isolationist preconceptions of her brother and cousin, publishers respectively of the New York Daily News and the Chicago Tribune. It has been observed that Cissie has more ability than stability, but she puts on a good show of its vitriolic and unpredictable kind. She has the benefit of the highly valued Tribune comics, which, as a director of the Tribune, she was able to take away from the Post.
In Washington, the Post has not tried to be another New York Times (NYT) but has aimed for a balance of news and features that would give it an adequate circulation base in a relatively small city. Its particular glory is its editorial page, which is so independent, vigorous, and well informed it is coming to be watched by alert editors in all sections of the country. It is attaining the kind of influence Lord Northcliffe, the British publisher, had in mind when he said: “Of all the American newspapers I would prefer to own the Washington Post because it reaches the breakfast tables of the members of Congress.”
The Post reaches Washington’s breakfast tables — some 164,000 of them — and it arrives with an impact. Dressed in chaste upper-and-lower-case headlines, the Post presents the foreign, military, and diplomatic news as sifted from the dispatches of the three major wire services and the foreign service of the New York Herald Tribune. The capital news is intelligently reported by the Post’s own “national bureau” with a measure of analysis and interpretation to which the press associations do not aspire. The crime news, of which war-crowded Washington seems to have more than its share, is always subordinated to national and international news.
At the White House, the Post is one of the six newspapers with which the President opens his day. He pays special attention, it is generally supposed, to the Post’s editorial page. He once remarked at his press conference, concerning a foreign-policy editorial that had appeared in the Post that morning, “I was so surprised to find myself so well understood by an editorial writer that I almost fell out of bed.”
Although Washingtonians do not vote, Congressmen generally are sensitive to praise or censure in the Post. In extreme cases of recalcitrance, Mr. Meyer has obtained action by seeing that the Post’s editorials are quoted in the newspapers back home. This is the technique the Post employed last year to force the removal of Representative Eugene Cox of Georgia as chairman of the House committee investigating the Federal Communications Commission. Cox was charged with having accepted a $2,500 fee for representing a private client before the FCC in violation of the criminal code, but nothing was done about it until Mr. Meyer wrote Speaker Rayburn an open letter, letting the word seep through that if necessary the letter would be reprinted as a paid advertisement in Mr. Rayburn’s and Mr. Cox’s home towns.
The paper’s influence is not limited to official Washington: It is just as powerful in civic causes. One day a second-generation Italian girl wrote Columnist Jerry Kluttz suggesting that the Post sponsor a drive to have government girls contribute a dollar each to buy a war plane for the Army. In the ensuing four weeks 155,000 government girls contributed $157,000 — enough to buy a Mustang for the Army and a Corsair for the Navy.
The Post is liberally quoted and reprinted in the Congressional Record, eight instances of this occurring in the issue of September 20 alone. The Post claims its editorials are reprinted by out-of-town papers twice as often as those of all other Washington dailies combined. A sampling by Elmo Roper showed the Post has the highest readership in Congress. Seventy-two per cent of the Senators and Representatives read it, compared to 60 per cent for the Washington Star, the runner-up.
Plan for greatness
Mr. Meyer acquired the Post at bargain auction in June 1933, for $825,000 — exactly $4,175,000 less than he had offered for it four years before. When he outbid Hearst and others to get the paper, it had fallen from a respectable, if not esteemed, position as the spokesman of the Republican party in Washington to a level of abasement rare in American journalism. The late Edward Beale McLean, its playboy owner, had milked the paper of its assets until it could no longer pay the newsprint bill for its scraggly circulation of 52,000. McLean’s name had been mentioned in the Teapot Dome expose, and he owned the “Little House on H Street,” the rendezvous of Smith, Daugherty, and the others. What Mr. Meyer got for his money was an Associated Press membership, a run-down building and plant, and a name chiefly distinguished by the fact that John Philip Sousa had written a march in its honor.
On this withered trunk Mr. Meyer proposed to graft a vigorous, independent newspaper. To attract circulation and advertising he wanted it to be sound and lively, yet not unconventional. For a reputation as a national newspaper the Post would build a powerful editorial page and a “national bureau,” covering the White House, Congress, the Cabinet offices, and other departments of government. As a pattern for this bureau, Mr. Meyer had in mind the Washington offices of such papers as the New York Times and Herald Tribune, but the Post would have two advantages over these in making its influence felt. Being published in Washington, it would be more widely read in the government, and it would have a more vigorous editorial page. It would be in position to shed light and influence policy at its sourc — the peculiar privilege of a Washington newspaper.
“In my first two years,” Mr. Meyer now says, “I made all the mistakes in the book.” First he hired as general manager a chain-newspaper executive who did not quite understand what Mr. Meyer was driving at. Possibly thinking of Hearst’s early raid on Joseph Pulitzer’s brilliant staff, the new publisher hired, at salaries rare for Washington newspapers, a number of big newspaper names. Some, like Ray Clapper, Franklyn Waltman, and Elliott Thurston, had genuine ability; others were simply veterans from once great newspapers that had fallen by the way.
Mr. Meyer stuffed the paper full of features, especially syndicated columns, which were then coming into vogue. One acid wit in the Senate press gallery remarked, “Now you can buy the Post and get all the garbage in one can.” For the first few months Mr. Meyer kept his editorial writers muzzled. He wanted the page to hold its fire until the right man was found to call the shots. After six months he found his man in Felix Morley, brother of the author Christopher Morley and former editorial writer and foreign correspondent of the Baltimore Sun. Morley was named editor, and with his arrival the Post’s editorial page at once began to acquire insight, vigor, and prestige. In 1936, Morley was awarded the Pulitzer prize for distinguished editorial writing, for work done in 1935.
The Post’s news department was slower to find itself. Mr. Meyer had said the Post would be independent politically, but the staff received this announcement with cynical reserve. Mr. Meyer had been a lifelong Republican, and had served under Republican Presidents as Governor of the Federal Reserve Board in Washington and as Chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The reporters for months persisted in writing stories to fit what they conceived to be the boss’s personal politics, and for similar reasons the paper broke out with a rash of stories on finance, banking, and taxation, but, much to the paper’s gain, this unsubtle form of apple-polishing gradually abated.
It took some time for Mr. Meyer to acquire a news executive to his liking. There was a parade of tentative, nervous managing editors until the end of 1935. Then Mr. Meyer settled permanently on Alexander F. “Casey” Jones, a talented newspaperman of Minneapolis. Jones, a tall gray veteran of the business, brought with him to the Post all the tricks of gathering news and selecting and playing features. He also brought with him a thorough technical knowledge of newspaper management. Mr. Meyer at last was able to devote himself to the larger problems of a publisher.
The Post under Mr. Meyer flexed its muscles first in a brisk but futile fight against devaluation of the dollar in 1933. But the following spring the paper succeeded in a campaign to force Congress to relax the stringent and paralyzing provisions of the Securities Act.
The Post waged its greatest campaign, however, in 1937 against the President’s attempt to get a Supreme Court to his own liking without waiting for retirements and deaths to give him his way. The President had suggested that the court was aged and enfeebled, and therefore behind in its work. Mr. Meyer asked one of his best reporters to interview one of the Justices to find the facts. When the reporter objected that it was against precedent to ask a Justice for an interview, Mr. Meyer offered to get the interview himself. The reporter then changed his mind.
The resulting story showed that the Supreme Court was not behind with its work. Subsequent articles showed that where the district and circuit courts were behind, this condition had no correlation with the age of the judges, and that there were in the district and circuit courts many vacancies of long standing anyway. The facts revealed were carried by the wire services in articles credited to the Post, and one of the President’s closest advisers told Mr. Meyer, “You’ve managed to strip the camouflage from the court bill.”
When Felix Morley took over as editor, he brought the editorial page down from its ivory tower. The editorial writers, he said, must be not only commentators on the news but also gatherers of news. It was true that their reporting would be reflected only in the logic of their editorials, but nevertheless that the editorial writer in Minneapolis or Dallas, no matter how able, could not match. The Post was capitalizing the advantage of its location at the source of events.
Relations with the White House
The Post often disagrees with the President’s objectives, and even when it agrees in substance it frequently differs with him on methods and standards of performance. It considers that the Administration has been, from the administrative point of view, woefully weak.
Yet when criticism of the Administration has been most pointed, it has been fairly put, and this has permitted the paper to maintain amicable working relations with the Democratic majority in Congress and with the White House itself. In Washington the impression is widespread that President Roosevelt feels close enough to Eugene Meyer to telephone him and ask for editorial assistance on measures dear to the heart of the White House. This is untrue, though undoubtedly it is true that his subordinates make such calls.
On foreign policy the Post has often seen eye to eye with the White House, and President Roosevelt made it abundantly clear that he appreciated the Post’s steady support in this field in the prewar years. When, owing to the prevalence of isolationist sentiment, Mr. Roosevelt felt that he must deliver his warnings to the dictators in cryptic and ambiguous language, the Post was the oracle that elaborated the phrases for Congress.
This the Post was able to do not because Mr. Roosevelt favored it with an interlinear translation of his utterances, but because it maintained sources of information practically as authoritative as those available to the White House. Mr. Meyer took care that his key reporters and editors cultivated the right contacts, and in the interest of better general information on international affairs he organized a series of off-the-record seminars for a select group of Post writers and correspondents of out-of-town papers. These meetings were smokers held at Mr. Meyer’s home in Washington, with an Ambassador, visiting foreign dignitary, or State Department official as the guest of honor. In 1937 Mr. Meyer and Felix Morley spent seven weeks in Europe finding the trend of events firsthand.
On a spring evening in 1939 President Roosevelt mystified and electrified the U.S., if not the world, by calmly telling the townspeople gathered to bid him farewell at Warm Springs, “I’ll be back in the fall if we don’t have a war.” In an amazing exercise of clairvoyance the Post proceeded to tell exactly what was on the President’s mind.
“In using the collective ‘we,'” the editorial said, “the President told Hitler and Mussolini, far more impressively than he told Warm Springs, that the tremendous force of the U.S. must be a factor in their current thinking. He told the Axis powers that the Administration is far from indifferent to their plottings. He made it plain that a war forced by them would from the outset involve the destinies of a nation which, as they fully realize, is potentially far stronger than Germany and Italy united.”
Far from resenting this attempt by the editor to read his mind, Mr. Roosevelt in his press conference directed White House correspondents to read the Post’s editorial if they wished to know what he had meant. That night every American press service and the important ones serving foreign countries carried the Post’s editorial in their wires and cables.
On occasion, too, the State Department has referred reporters to Post editorials for illumination of official policy. Yet the Post has had deep differences with the State Department. The Post campaigned against the arms embargo raised against the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War, and more recently it assailed the Administration for failing to give prompt recognition to de Gaulle as the de facto head of the French nation.
For the past year and a half the Post has kept up a hot drumfire of criticism against the State Department as a department. In the summer of 1943 the paper called for a complete reshuffle of the “mechanism for formulating foreign policy.” It was up to the President “to eliminate the conflicts in administration which are alleged here and abroad to be giving the impression that there is not one State Department, but several.” When the State Department announced early this year that it had reorganized itself, the Post’s editors were not appeased. They greeted the change with an editorial, “Lo! The Mouse,” charging the department hadn’t “budged an inch.” The State Department, the ” Post thinks, is still not properly organized to plan ahead on reparations, collective security, and the maintenance of international trade. The Post’s editorials hit hard, and there have been telephone calls and visits from State Department officials to try to have them withdrawn or moderated. Mr. Meyer chews on his ‘black cigar and backs his editors.
On the home front
The Post’s editorial strength and vigor are not exhausted in dealing with international affairs or major issues pending in Congress. Lesser matters get due attention. Casey Jones does not think it beneath the paper’s dignity to print a series of stories designed to restore the perspective of Congressmen who consider themselves above the parking laws enforced for ordinary citizens. The Post is especially interested in child welfare. It campaigned for nearly eight years to get Congress to enact an adoption law to end a racket in selling-and sometimes reclaiming and reselling-illegitimate babies and orphans; the necessary statute was enacted only last April. Dillard Stokes, a reporter with a talent for sleuthing, uncovered a subversive propaganda group and traced a connection between its leader. and the office of Congressman Hamilton Fish. Stokes’s facts contributed to the evidence that landed Fish’s secretary, George Hill, in prison.
In a number of instances where the focus of principle is minute but the issue great, the Post serves, in a way that none but a Washington newspaper can, as a prod to the conscience of Congress. Take the Bovingdon case, which arose in the summer of 1943. Dr. John Bovingdon was Asiatic economic analyst in Leo Crowley’s Office of Economic Warfare. As one of the few Americans able to speak and read Japanese, he was a serviceable man. It happened that one of his sons had been killed in an Army air crash, and another was serving in the Air Corps. But he had once been a professional ballet dancer and had performed before leftist groups. To Congressman Martin Dies this was a crime, and the Dies Committee brought pressure for Bovingdon’s dismissal. When Crowley complied, the Post took up Bovingdon’s cause. The Post said: “If the rights and reputations of federal employees are not vigorously upheld against careless and bigoted attack, then the quality of personnel in the government is bound to deteriorate … The real question is whether the selection of personnel in OEW is going to be determined by Leo Crowley or by Martin Dies.” Crowley did not reinstate Bovingdon, and no other government office risked congressional censure by giving him a job; but at least he had found a tribune.
In the same manner the Post has been one of the too few newspapers to raise a warning voice against discriminatory treatment, in the name of military necessity, of American citizens of Japanese blood. After Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt said, “A Jap is a Jap; it makes no difference whether he is an American citizen or not,” the Post pointed to the casualty list of the Nisei in the American Army and asked: “What was that you were saying, General?”
His own editor
Mr. Meyer’s peculiar gift as publisher seems to be his willingness to grant his editors and reporters sufficient latitude to realize their potentialities. He is not interested in narrow conformity, but in character and intellect, and this makes for a stimulating newspaper. While giving abundant suggestions and keeping in dose touch with the news and its treatment, he avoids detailed interference. His great contribution is to set standards and lay down broad policy; nowhere is the value of this more evident than in international affairs.
Felix Morley, for all his insight, was a Quaker with pacifist leanings. He supported the President’s aggressive foreign policy when it appeared that a strong stand might bluff the dictators out of making war. But when war approached anyway, Morley opposed our participation, urging that “we should maintain neutrality in order to use our impartial influence in favor of a constructive peace.” Mr. Meyer, by contrast, considered war inevitable from the beginning. This developing impasse was resolved in 1940 when Morley resigned to become president of Haverford College, his alma mater.
A few years before, Morley had tried to obtain as an assistant editor Herbert Elliston, an editor and columnist of the Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Meyer now offered Elliston the post Morley vacated, except that the publisher himself took the title of editor, designating Elliston as head of the editorial page. Like Morley, Elliston has a mind of his own and is not cowed by a timorous solicitude for what the publisher would like. Elliston is more outspokenly progressive in political outlook than was Morley, and this has been reflected in a more sympathetic attitude toward some of the social policies of the Roosevelt administration. This trend has been emphasized by the addition to the editorial page in 1943 of Alan Barth, a former Texas newsman with distinct New Deal sympathies.
Mr. Meyer hired Barth with full knowledge of his New Deal views. When someone commented on Barth’s political outlook, Mr. Meyer replied, “So much the better.” He was apparently not opposed to a leavening for the conservative Republican background of some of his older editorial writers. It may be assumed that a change in Mr. Meyer’s own outlook has taken place in the past few years; at least it appears implicit in such things as the fact that whereas the Post was coldly analytical, if not unfriendly, when the TVA was launched, it now supports similar projects for the Missouri, Arkansas, and Columbia watersheds.
Much of the impetus for the Post’s concern in such things as child welfare, the removal of slums, and the equalization of educational opportunity among the states comes from Mrs. Meyer, who is legally a partner with her husband in publishing the paper. Mrs. Meyer, who as a girl reported on the New York Sun, occasionally contributes an article or a series to the Post. Her recent book, Journey Through Chaos, is a compilation of articles published in the Post in 1943 and early 1944. It is an arresting first-hand account of the impact of the war on the men, women, and children in twenty-seven American war centers. Mrs. Meyer takes no direct part in running the newspaper beyond an infrequent suggestion for a story or editorial.
Mr. and Mrs. Meyer entertain now and then for the staff; after a few highballs the distance between publisher and reporter diminishes, if it does not quite disappear. Mr. Meyer enjoys especially shooting craps, and the same instinct that enabled him to distinguish financial trends sustains him in betting on the turn of the dice. He usually wins.
The common touch
“Casey” Jones has struck a medium between the intellectual’s idea of what a capital newspaper should be like and the sort of paper that is welcomed along Georgia Avenue, the common denominator of Washington’s varied population. Flippantly, but with some truth, the late George Harvey once observed that, to succeed, a Washington newspaper need have only a good sports section and bright society pages. The Post’s sports section, whose mainstay, columnist Shirley Povich, got his start as caddy for “Ned” McLean, is excellent. Soon after the U.S. entered the war, the Post announced: “For the duration and probably longer-we are finished with society as such.” But the social tide in Washington is strong. The society page reappeared after a year and a half.
The most widely read feature of the Post — or of any Washington newspaper, for that matter — is “Mary Haworth’s Mail,” the column that in another newspaper would be devoted to “Advice to the Lovelorn.” Instead of writing drool on such questions as, “Shall I neck on my first date?” Miss Haworth writes conscientiously, but with an astringent Irish wit, as a combination human-relations counselor and psychiatrist.
Men seem to be as numerous as women among her fans. The Annapolis Log reported that “Mary Haworth’s Mail” is the most popular column at the Naval Academy, and the late Lord Lothian told Mr. Meyer that in the Post he read each day the front page, the editorials, and then Mary Haworth.
When a Navy wife wrote, “My husband … wants a child. I do not … I don’t want to drag around alone during those miserable nine months,” Miss Haworth informed the woman she was “hare-brained,” and added: “My immediate reaction is a blend of nausea and dismay.” After a thousand-word pen lashing, the columnist advised the girl that if she could overcome her selfishness, she should: “Have the baby, by all means, no matter what the inconveniences.”
Some competent newspapermen think that in spite of a genuine show of character, the Post lacks a forceful, integrated newspaper personality. One source of weakness, they think, is the great number of columns of contributed comment the paper carries. Although Mr. Meyer says he has now lost some of his early passion for columns, the paper still carries Walter Lippmann, Sumner Welles, Marquis Childs, Mark Sullivan, Ernest Lindley; and Paul-Winkler, in addition to Barnet Nover, one of the Post’s editorial writers who produces a signed article on international affairs three days a week.
The opinion is widespread among the more mature editorial writers on the Post and elsewhere that columns drain away interest from the editorial page and are attractive chiefly to papers too timid or ill-informed to print incisive comment on their own responsibility. A column or two such as Lippmann’s, they concede, may be all right, especially for a newspaper in a city situated a thousand miles from the capital, or for a paper too small to support a full staff of editorial writers. But it is a mistake, they maintain, for a large newspaper in a city like Washington or New York to print a multiplicity of columns, as if trying to be all things to all men.
Morley was not happy over the publisher’s predilection for columns, and neither is Herbert Elliston. The Post prints about 2,500 words of editorials of its own each day, and Elliston thinks this is as much newspaper comment as the citizen is likely to expose himself to. While the Post publishes a surplusage of columns it runs shy on certain categories of news that presumably the citizens would like to see published.
This effect of indecisiveness is pointed up by the occasional failure of the Post to take a stand on the most important of questions. As this issue of FORTUNE went to press, the Post had not announced in the presidential campaign for either Roosevelt or Dewey, but had commented with balanced impartiality on the campaign speeches of each. Mr. Meyer had justified this tactic on two grounds: first, the citizens of Washington don’t vote, so why should the Post? Second, the Post, by holding aloof, would place itself in better strategic position to take sides on issues in the administration of whichever candidate was elected. Its comments could not be deemed partisan.
Whatever the ethical implication, it is probably bad journalism. People are attracted to a newspaper that knows its mind and expresses it, just as they are attracted to positive character in an individual.
If the Post lacks well-knit personality, it could be because the organization is not itself well knit. Mr. Jones has mountainous duties that on many newspapers are shared between a managing editor and an executive editor. It is hard for one man properly to supervise the handling of the news while shouldering a load of administrative duties. The national news bureau suffers for lack of a top-flight man with full time to dig into political and economic developments, discern the hidden story, and coach the reporter in bringing it into form.
The Post has lost many of its keenest reporters to the armed services. -The war alone, however, cannot be blamed for every inadequacy in the Post’s staff. For example, the war has not made it mandatory to do without a cartoonist to replace the hard-hitting Gene Elderman, who left two years ago. The Post needs a cartoonist to drive home its editorials.
The Post has never had a foreign correspondent; a national newspaper needs at least one set of eyes and ears abroad. It needs also a military correspondent, not to report the news of the hometown boys at the front — desirable as that may be — but to keep abreast of new developments in weapons, or the lack of them, and of problems of organization and strategy.
Not the least of the Post’s shortcomings, from the Washingtonian’s viewpoint, is spotty coverage of local news, as distinct from local editorial crusades. Washington is a town of community organizations — “citizens’ associations” of white folk, “civic associations” of Negroes. These are exceptionally important, for, since Washingtonians do not vote, the associations are quasi governmental. The Star has long made a practice of covering these monthly meetings, and of course the meetings of the city-wide federations. Often the Post and the other papers merely check on such meetings by telephone, if at all.
The box office
A great many heads have been shaken in knowing sympathy over the financial plight of the Post. But the Post under the Meyer ownership is probably not a net loser, if one allows for appreciation in its value as a going concern. The paper suffered operating losses in the first nine years to a total of about $5 million, but it has since accumulated circulation, advertising volume, and prestige. It came out of the red in 1943, and should return a net of perhaps $500,000 in 1944. Even without considering that in the bad years Mr. Meyer was able, for tax purposes, to offset his paper’s operating losses against income from holdings in Allied Chemical, he need have no regrets over his investment. A would-be purchaser might well offer him $5 or $6 million for the Post, but it would make no difference. Mr. Meyer says he wouldn’t sell to anyone now.
Early in 1943 the Post’s home delivery price was increased, and last spring the street-sale price was upped from 3 to 5 cents. The circulation loss that followed these increases has been recouped, and the net increase in revenue runs about $8,000 a week, or $400,000 a year. Advertising this year should run well above 15 million lines, more than two and a half times the volume in 1933, and about a million lines more than in 1943. This will mean an increase in advertising revenue for the year of about $160,000.
The WPB has required newspapers to limit their newsprint consumption to 78 per cent of the tonnage used in 1941. Newspapers that had been printing relatively “tight” editions — that is, editions with a high ratio of advertising to news — were caught in the pincers. They had no place to put the bulk of new advertising thrust upon them by war-prosperous business. Newspapers that had been printing a relatively large ratio of news to advertising could “tighten” their editions and take advantage of the situation.
If a newspaper had a large circulation outside the metropolitan trading zone, it could slough off at least a part of that readership, saving newsprint to devote to advertising. For such hinterland circulation as it desired to keep, it could print editions from which retail and classified advertising were omitted, saving still more paper. The Washington Post has been in a fortunate position to employ all these short cuts. In 1941 the paper published 60 per cent news to 40 per cent ads; now the ratio is 42.5 per cent to 57.5 per cent. The Post’s advertising has zoomed until, according to Media Records, it is now fourth among U.S. morning papers in linage. For the first time in years all capital newspapers are in the black.
The future of The Post
Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress, and some other Washingtonians aspire to create a national capital that will be as important culturally and intellectually as politically in the postwar world. The staff of the Post want to rise to the opportunity. But there is some apprehension lest Mr. Meyer, having built up the newspaper, may not take the necessary measures to preserve it as a monument. At the age of sixty-nine, he may well feel that the Post’s destiny will depend in great part on the choice of his successors.
Last spring Mr. Meyer chose as assistant to the publisher Wayne Coy, a former small-town publisher from Indiana, who had been one of Mr. Roosevelt’s presidential assistants. Coy’s announced function is to take some of the load of detail off the publisher and to administer the Post’s recently acquired radio station, WINX. Some of the Post staff think that Coy is being groomed to be an interim general manager, to serve until time reveals which of Mr. Meyer’s family are most qualified to take over. “Nothing to it,” say Coy and Mr. Meyer.
Mr. Meyer’s only son Eugene III, a captain in the Air Forces, deliberately chose medicine for a career. Of the four daughters, only Katharine has shown a deep interest in the Post, having worked in both the editorial and business departments. “Kay” Meyer is married to Captain Philip Graham, a graduate of Harvard Law School and formerly secretary to Justice Felix Frankfurter and to Justice Stanley Reed. Graham is now abroad with the armed forces. Mr. Meyer would be pleased if, after the war, his son-in-law should become interested in the Post. The Grahams are what is usually described as very “socially minded,” and might give Washington the progressive “Thunderer” for which such journalistic Elijahs as Oswald Garrison Villard have pined.
How near to that goal has Eugene Meyer’s Post progressed thus far? A clue to the answer may be found in the Atlantic Monthly, which this year conducted a contest for the best articles submitted on “Freedom of the Press.” In the winning essay, Robert Lasch, a Chicago editorial writer, said: “What a free press needs is an owner who recognizes that he is selling circulation and prestige, not an economic point of view or service to special interests; and who, above all, recognizes that selling something is not his first obligation at all, but is subordinate to his responsibility to represent the unrepresented. A man who can divorce himself from the associations and outlook that normally go with wealth; a man who can sacrifice even his own short-range interest as a business entrepreneur in favor of his long-run interest as the champion of a greater cause; a man whose passion for the general welfare overcomes his desire to impose his own ideas … here is the kind of newspaper owner who can make the press free.”
So judged, Mr. Meyer and the Post come off pretty well. The paper does not specialize in representing the “unrepresented,” but it certainly takes them into account. The Post has shown a devotion to the general welfare, and has exercised its power with modesty and courage. Eleven years ago the paper had no standing at all. Today it would be ranked for leadership and prestige among the first half-dozen newspapers in the U.S. This is no mean achievement for a man who turned to journalism as a postscript to a full-length career in banking.