To Our Readers
WE IN the journalism business tend to be fascinated by -- surprise! -- the journalism business, and so we may inflict more stories about ourselves on our readers than, strictly speaking, our readers absolutely need. Still, we know, based in part on the mail we receive, that many readers do wonder and worry about the future of news reporting. We wonder and worry, too. Anxiety has intensified this year with an accelerating decline in newspaper advertising, and it has hit home for us in a particularly painful way this spring, first with the early retirements of scores of colleagues and then, this week, with Len Downie's announcement that he'll step down Sept. 8 after 17 years as executive editor. Mr. Downie never sought the public aura of his predecessor, Ben Bradlee, the outsize figure of Watergate days, and Mr. Bradlee remains a revered presence in the newsroom here. But Mr. Downie is no less loved and respected. For a generation of readers, Mr. Downie's integrity, fierce commitment to fairness and determination to produce a compelling newspaper every single day -- which, counting seven years as managing editor, amounts to some 9,000 newspapers -- have defined Post journalism. For a generation of journalists, Mr. Downie has set the standard.
So what happens to our standards now? Unquestionably, the next editor will face steep challenges. Many of the revenue sources that used to support our news-gathering -- classified ads for jobs, for example -- are shifting to the Internet, and not exclusively to washingtonpost.com. Meanwhile, the newspaper habit is no longer a given for young Washingtonians. The combination of declining advertising and declining or static circulation is afflicting just about every newspaper in the country.
On the other hand, we're blessed, in the nation's capital, with readers who are unusually engaged and passionate about the news, whether from the White House, the county courthouse or FedEx Field. The number of people reading Post journalism has multiplied manyfold, thanks to the reach of our Web site. And the paper remains committed to the proposition that publishing a high-quality product is not only compatible with but also essential to turning a profit.
Katharine Weymouth, 42, recently became the fifth member of her family, representing the fourth generation, to serve as publisher. "The ways in which we break news and tell stories will continue to evolve and change as technology and readers' habits evolve and change," she said in a message to the staff last month. "Maintaining the quality of what we do is essential. Creating superior, accurate, creative and relevant journalism is our mission. I do not think I am overstating it when I say that our work, and that of our brethren in the industry, is at the heart of our democracy. We are more committed to those efforts than ever before."
There will be changes in the months and years ahead. We expect to hear from you, as usual, if and when you think we've headed in the wrong directions. And we'd welcome your thoughts now about these challenges. Please write to us at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail to email@example.com.