The Washington Post, Online News, and the Obama Inauguration: You Get What You Pay For

You get what you pay for.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I have spent some time in recent weeks praising The New York Times, as an example of the journalism we will come to miss if we don't recognize that paid and trained professionals do a better job than amateurs at finding and presenting the news.

In doing so, I've neglected to say much about my hometown paper, The Washington Post—the other big dog in the nation's capital—which is going through its own transformational changes.

The Post has its issues. The paper and its website must learn to love one another. Its op-ed writers appear to have lifetime tenure, and seem older, on average, than Supreme Court justices. The newspaper has a reprehensible anti-union slant. It has lost a lot of top talent in recent years, and replaced it too often with lesser lights. Seeing Dana Milbank in Mary McGrory's shoes is like watching Will Ferrell perform King Lear.

But there is life in the ol' Post yet, as last year's Pulitzer juries noted. And this week's coverage of the inauguration has been exceptional.

To take but one example, pick up the 38-page special section "Dawn of a Presidency," that was published on Tuesday. It has taken me two days to read the whole thing—it is that rich.

David Maraniss previewing his upcoming biography of Barack Obama. The inestimable Wil Haygood, chronicling the lives of an African-American family. The superb Henry Allen, on Obama and oratory. And others.

(Hey Marcus—Can't we get these guys in the paper more often?)

Then there were the dozens of Post reporters who fanned out around the city in the early morning hours of Tuesday, worked the pavement through the day and the night's inaugural balls, and reported what they found in Wednesday morning's edition.

What web site is going to hire high-paid poets like Maraniss, Haygood and Allen? What Internet search engine will employ a small army of reporters—pay them a wage, and benefits, on which to raise a family—and send them out to blanket a city on an historic day like Tuesday?

At first blush, free news seems great. But you get what you pay for.

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