Thursday, June 4, 2009; 12:00 PM
Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher was online Thursday, June 4, at Noon ET for the final regular edition of Potomac Confidential, a chance to talk about the future of news-gathering, the Virginia governor's race, how the GM bankruptcy will affect Washingtonians, and lessons learned from a decade of column-writing.
Last Column: After 1,250 Columns, It's Time to Shift Gears (Post, May 31)
Blog: Toast (Raw Fisher, June 4)
Archives: Discussion Transcripts
Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks.
This is the last regularly scheduled edition of Potomac Confidential. I will be back from time to time for special editions keyed to news events or special projects here at The Post, but our weekly hour together comes to an end here. I will be moving into a new role at The Post, putting together a team of writers to add a new dimension to coverage of the Washington area. We hope you'll soon see--both in print and online--some deeper and richer stories that tell us about how we live and about the essential issues and people in this region. Our first project is up on the site this week, a photo blog by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Michael Williamson and reporter Theresa Vargas, who will spend this summer traveling around the Washington area and across the nation to chronicle the impact of the recession on ordinary people. The duo is traveling around Virginia this week and you can see what they're up to on Half A Tank: Along Recession Road at www.washingtonpost.com/recession-road
Back to this moment: Just in--actor Keith Carradine has been found dead in Thailand. Did someone Kill Bill? Probably not; early wire reports speak of suicide.
Will many local GM dealers bite the dust in the wake of the automaker's bankruptcy? Very good piece by The Post's Dana Hedgpeth about Jack Fitzgerald and his chain of dealerships today.
In the Virginia governor's race, Tuesday's Democratic primary is a fascinating one--will Virginians go for the guy who's advertising the most, or will they stick with one of the two candidates who have spent their careers working on state issues? My crystal ball is fuzzy, but it's sending signals that show the two longtime state legislators--Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds--winning a majority of the vote between them, but perhaps not enough to prevent Terry McAuliffe from squeaking by with a plurality victory. What do your crystal balls show?
Was the District government right to spend millions to save Boys & Girls Clubs that that private charity has already closed or was preparing to close? The number of kids in gentrifying parts of Washington is declining somewhat, but not substantially--does the city have an obligation to assure that there are recreation opportunities for kids?
And, of course, I welcome your thoughts on my departure from this particular scene, and on the evolution of The Post and other news operations in this time of swift change--and a considerable dismantling of the nation's and region's newsgathering infrastructure.
Finally, the last Yay and Nay of the Day, but this time, all I have for you is one big Yay:
Yay to you, because as a departing chatter, I certainly have no need to suck up to an audience but the fact is that I will really miss these weekly get-togethers. Every time colleagues or readers crack wise about the loons and haters who populate too many message boards on this and other news sites, I direct them to the archive of this chat, where they will find intelligent, fun, and funny conversation that has often really gotten to the meat of some very tough topics, including the diciest ones, such as race, class, schooling, guns, gays, city vs suburbs, growth and development and on and on.
We have the luxury of having an above-average audience--thoughtful and smart--and that has made these conversations a highlight of each week for me. Thanks very much for spending your lunch hours with me over the years.
Ok, enough with the mawkish stuff. On to your comments and questions, all comers welcome. Your turn starts right now....
HoCo, Md.: Hi Marc,
I am really going to miss your columns. I started reading them around the time I moved to the area in 1999. At first I wondered, "why is this guy always so grumpy?" Over time, I acquired a taste for your perspectives and even when I disagreed with you, I could not easily dismiss your well-reasoned arguments. I think that's what I will miss most about your columns -- the ones where I respected your opinions in spite of them being different from mine. It is too rare to find that these days.
Best of luck to you in your new projects.
Marc Fisher: Many thanks--very kind of you. I find that many readers apologize for not agreeing with me. No apology needed or desired: It would be intensely and unacceptably boring if I had an audience of like-minded people. That's what I find so terribly tiresome about the cable TV news channels: Because their audiences are ideologically self-selecting, their content tends to be skewed in the direction of the audience's beliefs, which I find impossibly dull.
I don't take positions just to rev up the debate--I say what I believe. But what I've loved about the column job is that I get to present my perspective without having to stick to one ideological track or another. As it happens, my views are all over the yard--half of you think I'm a neo-con and half think I'm a flaming lib. That makes for a far more satisfying conversation for all.
washingtonpost.com: Actor David Carradine found dead in Bangkok (AP, June 4)
washingtonpost.com: For Car Dealers, the Hardest Sell Is on the Hill (Post, June 4)
Logan North, D.C.: Many reporters, when they become columnists, complain they have difficulty finding subjects on which to write. This never seemed to be a problem with you, and you largely avoided the tendency too often found among your brethren on the op-ed and sports pages of simply amplifying opinions on what the media deemed the day's "big issue" or appearing to audition for a pundit spot on cable TV. How did you generate your column ideas? What would you advise your successor to avoid?
Marc Fisher: Great question and thanks for the kind words. One of my regrets is that I have on and next to my desk towering stacks of documents and notes that represent literally hundreds of columns I will never get to write. I have always had vastly more column ideas than I've had the time to present in the paper and on the blog.
Ideas come from readers, from colleagues at The Post and from my own observations and home life, roughly in equal portions from those three main sources. I have tried to keep the column fairly newsy, and probably one third of columns were connected to something happening in the news that day or week. But most of my columns follow my own interests, passions and sense of what's happening.
I've told Bob McCartney, the former Metro editor of The Post, who will start up a column later this month, that the best columns come from whatever fascinates him, because those are the topics that he'll be best positioned to explain well and make captivating for readers. (There may be other columns or blogs added to our coverage as well as we reshape Metro in the coming weeks and months.)
13th St. S.E.: While you are dead wrong about most things, I still read you and will miss your contributions to the Post. Good luck on your new endeavor. I also take this as a positive step for D.C. United getting a new stadium. ;-)
Marc Fisher: I can't imagine how the departure of a columnist could have any impact on that, but the departure of the team's owner--Victor MacFarlane--may well create a change in the franchise's approach. D.C. United should stay in the city and should have a new place to play. I could see several scenarios with happy endings, including teaming up with one or more local universities on a facility that could be shared. The RFK site seems a non-starter, and Poplar Point was a bad idea, but the Prince George's option doesn't make sense for a team and a league whose future is mainly in cities.
Kensington, Md.: Marc, you probably won't post this, but I only wanted to say that I've been a paying Post reader for over 50 years, and when it comes to local columnists, you and John Kelly are unmatched since the days when William Raspberry was in what was then called the "City Life" section. (Tell me that doesn't date me....).
One question: Do you know whatever happened to Neil Henry? He was one of the best local feature writers that the Post ever had, but he just seemed to disappear from sight unannounced. He was a reporter's reporter and I wish that we had a hundred like him today.
Marc Fisher: You have great taste, he said modestly. Neil Henry was one of my heroes when I first came to The Post in 1986 and even long before that when my college roommates and I first fell in love with the paper from afar in the late 70s and early 80s. A beautiful writer, he was a pioneer in the experiential reporting that The Post became famous for. He is now dean of the journalism school at Berkeley. Here's more on him:
washingtonpost.com: Neil Henry
Washington, D.C.: I'm one of the few(?) millennial readers of the print version of the Post. I was a little annoyed that the Wone articles were not in the print version. They were some of the best articles the Post has had in a while and so it felt like a slight of print readers who keep the paper afloat. So when I have to go online to read some of the best articles I wonder why even bother with print.
Why only online? Were they considered too graphic for the print version?
washingtonpost.com: The Robert Wone Stabbing: Anatomy of a Murder Case, Part I (Post, May 31) and The Robert Wone Killing Remains 'a Head-Scratcher', Part II
Marc Fisher: We're still in an experimental phase as we try to figure out what kinds of stories work best online and in print. The simple fact is that as advertising declines, newspapers are shrinking. Luckily, readership is stronger than ever before, so we face a business model problem rather than an audience problem.
In a story like this, which is quite long and complicated, there just isn't room in the print paper to tell the tale as the reporter and editor wanted to. The web, with its unlimited space, seemed like the place to do that. That said, I've heard from many readers who argue quite persuasively that the paying customers ought to get the benefit of our reporting as much or more than the freeloaders who read us on the web. If we had it to do over, I think some people here would choose to put part or a summary of the story in the print edition. But others believe that the web is exactly where such stories should go. I'm interested in your thoughts on this.
NasTown, Section 319: Nats wins in 2009 -- over or under 50? We'll check the archive in late September to see how you did.
Marc Fisher: Put me down for under 50. I don't see how they get close to 50, really. They are likely to get worse, not better over the course of the rest of this season. If things go well, they will trade away one or two of their best hitters for very young pitchers who might help in a year or three. This is the worst team, perhaps, in baseball history, yet the hitting is actually among the best in the league. It's just everything else that's awful. So they're actually a fun team to watch, until the late innings, when they implode with all the regularity of a nuclear clock.
washingtonpost.com: Video: David Carradine (AP, June 4)
Northern Virginia: I've long meant to pose this question to you on your chats, and it looks like today is my last chance, so here goes. My wife grew up with dogs and likes them; I did not and do not. When we were engaged, we discussed the possibility of having a dog someday; apparently I agreed to this. Over the years, we have added kids and cats, but no dog yet. During this time, my dislike for dogs has grown considerably, to the point that I find the whole idea unpalatable. My wife, however, still talks about "someday," and insists that my earlier affirmations amounted to a pre-nup that I'm not at liberty to back out of at this point. This is not a pressing issue -- more a topic of occasional conversation -- but I know that "someday" will eventually come, and we will have to make a choice that will leave one or the other of us deeply unhappy, since there isn't really a half-a-dog compromise solution available.
My intent has long been to pose this dilemma to both you and Weingarten, given your opposing views on dogs. Any advice you could give me from your end of the canine-affinity spectrum?
Marc Fisher: Weingarten will surely tell you that you must live up to your commitment. He will try to make you feel dirty and guilty for having done a bait and switch on your mate.
I offer you absolution. You have grown, you have matured, you have come to know yourself and your needs, as well as those of your lover. Your decision about the dog is in the best interests of both of you, because the misery you would face should you cave to her request would hurt both of you. You don't need the dog; you need each other.
Columbia Heights, D.C.: Marc, As a longtime reader and fan, I don't think it's a good idea to end your column, blog AND chats! Ending these three resources is going to gut the Metro section, and the new venture sounds vague and ill-defined. Why not keep the blog going, or the weekly chats? The void they will leave simply provides an opening for the Examiner or the Washington Times to jump in there and further erode the Washington Post's dominance in the area. Like it or not, your name is virtually synonymous with the Metro section, and frankly, the new venture doesn't seem like something that can replace a classic newspaper columnist with a tried and true following.
Marc Fisher: There will still be a column in Metro, so there won't be a vacuum. I'm touched by your confidence in me, but I think you'll find the stories and other projects we're planning to be important and well worth reading. I do very much enjoy the chats and perhaps we can find a way down the road for me to get back to this format, but for now, I need to concentrate my efforts on the new gig. Thanks so much. But I wouldn't worry about the competitors you cite--neither has a serious presence in this market. We do face great and important competition, but it's mainly from online news sites, not from the other print outlets in Washington.
Baltimore, Md.: Marc: Just wanted to say how much I will miss the columns and the chats. Years ago, perhaps before you even started the column, you came down to the Avalon Theater in Easton, Md., on a Saturday and wrote a piece about the radio/stage show I did down there, Radio from Downtown.
We had a good talk and I remember thinking how unusual it was that a journalist who had covered the fall of the Berlin Wall was talking to me about regional radio comedy. Best of luck in your new role at the Post and I hope you'll come back online from time to time to talk.
Marc Fisher: Thanks so much--that was one of my favorite stories, the tale of a plucky bunch of creative people who took time away from their day jobs and families to put on a great old-fashioned but also newfangled on-stage, live radio show on the Eastern Shore on Saturday nights. Thanks for doing all you've done to bring people together.
Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Marc --
Sorry to see you go. I've enjoyed your columns and these chats.
As for your question: does the city have an obligation to ensure that there are recreation opportunities for kids? At the very least, it's in D.C.'s enlightened self-interest to provide these opportunities. I'm all for it.
Regarding Virginia's gubernatorial race, there's one commercial that's been buggin' me, and that's the one where Bob McDonnell says it's difficult raising five kids and running for governor. How old are his kids? In that same commercial, he talks of a daughter who served in the Army in Iraq. Is he really raising her?
Marc Fisher: Thanks.
In McAuliffe's defense, his does seem to be a close and involved family. When I visited him at his campaign headquarters, his wife and daughter were bopping around, helping out and also just hanging out with the candidate. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the McAuliffe campaign, but I don't see reason to doubt the veracity of that bit of image-making.
Arlington, Va.: Thanks for doing the chats, they were always fun. I wanted to get your final take on the taxi situation. Outside of the fact that it was forced on D.C., which I know bothers you, what do you think of meters now? It has made my life as someone who often takes cabs to and from the District much easier. No longer do I have some cab driver making up a fee from Adams Morgan that was twice the standard rate. Everyone gets fair rate for a fair service, and I still have no problem finding a cab when I need one.
Marc Fisher: Good question: Now that we've lived with the meter system for a while, how's it doing? From the customer perspective right now, it's doing reasonably well. Some trips are cheaper, though most are more expensive. The burden has been shifted from the more well-to-do folks who use cabs for short hops around downtown to the middle and lower-middle class people who depend on taxis for trips across the city to visit doctors, cart groceries or take care of other errands. That's wholly unfair in my view, but it makes the casual downtown cab passenger happy.
Unquestionably, meters are less stressful than zones. But the impact on drivers is little short of devastating. Their income has plummeted. Many have left or are considering leaving the business. If that results in overall fewer cabs on the streets, we all lose. Washington is unique in its density of taxis compared to population; if the move to meters shifts the balance and the number of cabs diminishes considerably, the rhythm and attraction of the city will decline immeasurably.
Think of the 1964 Mets: They get a new stadium and in 5 years win the World Series. It can happen again, Nationals!
Marc Fisher: Yes, it can, but it will take management that is considerably more aggressive than we've seen to date. The best hope is that the owners are frightened enough by the decline in attendance this year that they will move much more aggressively to rebuild this season and next winter.
McLean, Va.: Marc, I understand how focusing on individual stories makes for great narrative, but how will your team make sure that the stories they tell do not fall prey to fallacy of the exception proving the rule?
I have recommendations for a couple of in-depth stories:
Whatever became of Pants Pearson?
Has the recession hurt business at Dippin' Dots?
Is that a gun in Wayne LaPierre's pocket, or is he really happy to talk about the Second Amendment?
How many houses has the Prince George's SWAT team shot up since the start of the year?
Is Terry McAuliffe's promise to use chicken manure as a source of sustainable energy production an example of political allegory at its most sublime?
How do Maryland, Virginia and D.C. drivers hate each other? Let us count the ways.
Marc Fisher walks Gene Weingarten's dog, and lives to tell about it.
The Listener: What is the sound of a radio station going off the air?
So long, and thanks for all the fish.
Marc Fisher: Great ideas--I will definitely talk some of them up to the writers I'll be working with and we may end up doing some of them.
Good news from the ballpark: A slew of new options at Nats Park this season has happily diminished the stranglehold that the Evil Dots had on the dessert options there.
Ooops?: Marc, Love the blog and chats and am sad to see you go...
But, why did you answer a Question about Bob McDonnell with an answer about Terry McAuliffe?
Marc Fisher: Oh goodness--RETIRE THIS OLD HACK, he's answering the wrong question even in his swan song!
Sorry about that--well, now you know my answer to a question nobody asked. As for the one that was asked, about McDonnell, I've not met his family, so I can't give you anything about how truthful an image he has presented in those ads. But the strategy there is one that's quite common in TV spots for candidates these days: Warm up the popular impression of a candidate who is often portrayed as having tough and even stingy attitudes on social or spending issues by having members of his family attest--usually humorously--to his basic humanity.
Alexandria, Va.: I predict your unit does a in-depth look at the personalities who foment NIMBY opposition to "greater good" development, such as mixed-income housing in Tenleytown, Clarendon, and Old Town.
Marc Fisher: Another good idea. Thanks.
Bethesda, Md.: Dear Marc, not a question, just thanks for the last 10 years. You probably don't want to hear this, but it nudges me even closer to ending my Post subscription, since I've had since 1965. I'm glad to hear you're staying with the Post, at least for the time being. Good luck with your future endeavors.
Marc Fisher: Right--I don't like to hear that. I hope you'll keep your subscription, not because of any charitable instinct, but because you find value in the daily habit of paging through the paper to see what you might be interested in that you had never really thought about or looked into before. The many splendors of online journalism are the real thing--there are tools and gizmos that are simply dazzling--but the fact remains that most consumption of online news is very targeted: You're interested in a topic, you look for news about it, you read the story and you move on. Whereas the ritual of reading the paper is a more open-ended search: Let's see what's in the paper, and maybe we read about the things we're most passionate about, but maybe we also stumble upon something entirely different. That experience is harder to produce online--at least so far.
Virginia Beach, Va.: Marc, Will you be my guest at the first D.C. United game to be played in the new stadium!?
Marc Fisher: Sure, happy to. I don't know that you'd be able to convert me to a love of your sport, but a well-run sports franchise knows how to make the game experience a whole lot of fun even for the most casual and ignorant of attendees.
Woodbridge, Va.: If Jack Fitzgerald thinks it is so important to save GM and Chrysler dealerships then maybe he shouldn't have been driven to Capitol Hill in a Toyota Prius. Reminds me of the bank executives who took their private jets to D.C. to ask for bailoouts.
Marc Fisher: Well, he's got to go where the customers are, no? The fact that GM's share of auto sales continued to decline even when their prices were consistently lower than the Japanese cars is pretty telling. I have never owned an American car, in part because I knew too many guys in college who had summer jobs in the GM and Ford plants and told one horror story after another about the yuks they had with the older workers sabotaging cars coming down the line.
Charlottesville, Va.: Regarding next week's primary, there's been some talk around here about Republicans voting in the open primary to try and skew the results. Any word of that in the D.C. area? Personally, I'm planning on voting for Deeds because I think it's over for Moran and I want to make sure McAuliffe doesn't win and send the message that the Virginia governorship is for sale.
Marc Fisher: There is always such talk in Virginia primaries. And the fact is that it never happens: Yes, any Republican or independent may vote in the open Democratic primary. And yes, some folks get their jollies going down to the polls to try to throw a wrench into the other party's works. But studies by Larry Sabato, among others, indicate that the number of people who cross lines to cast nasty votes is tiny, tiny, tiny. The winner on Tuesday will be the guy the Democrats voted for.
Washington, D.C.: Please count me as one of the print subscribers who was very annoyed that the murder in Dupont Circle series was online only. What a good way of driving away the people (fools?) still willing to pay for the paper. If you are going to force subcribers to read online exclusives, at least ask your Web designers to include a "one page" feature so you don't have to click across five Web pages to read the entire article. Or is that just a way of getting us to endure more advertising? Thanks.
Marc Fisher: You can see the whole story in one take simply by clicking on the Print button, which will give you the full piece in one chunk. That's what I do to read any online story that's divided up into pieces. I believe they cut them into chunks because some readers find it more convenient to have bite-sized pieces of a story on each page; luckily, all readers can choose the way they want the story presented.
Washington, D.C.: Marc, thanks for always being an interesting read (even when I disagreed with you), and thanks for ALOST always posting my questions. Good luck beefing up the WaPo's local coverage, because, right now, the Examiner is beating you up in that category!
Marc Fisher: Not hardly. The other papers in town do a very good job of looking for holes in our coverage or different ways of handling or presenting local news, and they try to fill those gaps. But no other news organization has remotely the scope and depth of coverage that The Post provides on local issues, and I think you will see that gap get even greater in the coming months.
I crossed the line: I voted for North for Republican candidate so all the centrists would vote for the Democrat. IT WORKED!
Marc Fisher: Well, you got your wish, but it wasn't because of people crossing the party line--it was Republicans who chose Ollie North as their candidate, and quite convincingly.
Arlington, Va.: Marc Will your new group of writers be the basis of TV show where a group of wet-behind-the-ears reporters take on a city's issues while being guided by the insightful veteran? I'm thinking Hill Street Blues meets the Paper Chase but with with a possible appearance guest appearance by Craig T Nelson. Thanks and good luck!
Marc Fisher: Yes. But we've decided that Nelson, despite his experience doing a D.C.-centric show (who can name that show?), is not right for our target demographic. Your suggestions for star of our new show are most welcome, of course.
Fairfax, Va.: Hi,
I've enjoyed reading your columns and chats. From the looks of Recession Road, I'm going to like that too. Didn't have much chance to read through it yet, but the photos are certainly terrific.
I was wondering if there are any cases where a chatter's differing opinion made you change your mind about an issue?
Marc Fisher: Thanks--yes, there have definitely been cases where you all have won me over. Of course in this moment they're not springing to mind, but maybe one of you will recall. I have definite memories of mid-chat conversions.
Bethesda, Md.: I'm not going to take my laptop to the pot. I'll keep buying the Post.
Marc Fisher: Saved by the toilet! Weingarten would be proud.
Cherrydale, Va.: Somebody told me that President Bush's Head of the Civil Rights Division in DOJ was one of the plaintiffs against a big mixed-income housing development off Wilson Blvd. Is that true?
Marc Fisher: News to me, but sounds like it's worth checking.
Eastern Market, D.C.: About the Boys and Girls clubs that closed in gentrifying areas, I only know about the neighborhood by the Eastern club. While it is definitely true that the neighborhood has been gentrifying, there are still multiple large public housing projects in the area. If anything, the tension between neighbors and the kids who would use the club has increased with gentrification. I'm glad to see the city make the investment.
Marc Fisher: Agreed--of course the devil is in the details, and there is considerable criticism around town of how the government handles rec centers, but the facilities in question ought to be saved for some use for local kids. That's true at Eastern Branch, at least. At Jelleff in Georgetown, I could see a good argument for a larger development on an underused and underdeveloped site, but good luck getting that past the wealthy and well-organized neighbors.
D.C.: Two notes. First, about the Wone articles. I thought that the reporter did an amazing job of telling an incredibly complex and messy story. I had thought that I had followed this case pretty closely. But the story -- especially part two -- revealed how much messier the case is than I had imagined. It upset me so much that I had a hard time going to sleep that night!
And I'm going to miss your column! You were always a voice of informed reason. The kind of voice that citizens need. I'm going to miss your work.
washingtonpost.com: The Robert Wone Stabbing: Anatomy of a Murder Case, Part I (Post, May 31) and The Robert Wone Killing Remains 'a Head-Scratcher', Part II
Marc Fisher: Thanks on both counts. The reporter, Paul Duggan, is a terrific storyteller and a dogged investigator.
Taxi Question: I don't have strong feelings about meters or zones, but I'm curious about your assertion that most trips are more expensive but drivers' incomes have dropped significantly. This doesn't seem to make sense.
Marc Fisher: Yes, it does make sense when you consider that while long-haul trips are now more expensive, and the shortest trips are cheaper, most trips are those short ones, so drivers are taking home less money. And then add the fact that drivers may no longer double up by picking up additional passengers as they take one rider to his destination, and that's a big, big drop in their total income right there.
Taxis in D.C.: Marc, you can't have it both ways on taxi meters. If the cost of most cab rides is up, and just as many people are taking cabs, then cabbies' average incomes must be up too. You can't say that for most people cab rides are more expensive, and yet cabbies are thinking of exiting the business because their incomes are down.
Marc Fisher: I didn't say that for most people, fares are up. It's a mix. Longer hauls are more expensive, shorter ones are either flat or sometimes cheaper. The total income is way down, nearly all cabbies say.
Silver Spring, Md.: This is your last chat? Not your first? How long has this chat been going on? Sorry I missed it until now.
Marc Fisher: Hey, welcome aboard! Glad to have you with us.
And bye-bye, too. Sorry about that.
So long and thanks for all the fish: Have only been reading your chats for about four years now, but I will miss it. Although I only agree with you about half of the time, your blogs and chats are one of the things in the Post that I try to read as regularly as possible.
I am a diehard on-line reader and will not be a supporter of the paper copy. Since my days as a teen paper carrier, I have hated newsprint, don't like to carry it around, don't like the litter that it causes, yada, yada, yada. However, I am one who would love to "subscribe" on-line but the Post doesn't seem to have an option for those of us. The only option given is to "subscribe" to the paper copy, then put the paper on vacation hold and donate the unused credits back to the Post to distribute elsewhere. Sounds nice, but several readers of Weingarten have said that it doesn't work and that the carriers still litter the papers in their yards and they have to dispose of the papers. Kind of defeats the purpose for those of us who decline the paper copy for conservationist reasons. Hopefully you can encourage TPTB at WaPo to come up with some sort of donation or on-line subscription service. There may not be that many of us, but there are a growing number of folks that would want to keep the Post in business but only want to read on-line.
Good luck in the new job. How will we know which articles come from your new team? Will you be an editor now, or will you be doing some of the writing as well? Will you have any bylines that we can look for? Gotta ease the withdrawal on us somehow -- throw us a bone.
Marc Fisher: Thanks very much. We're working on several possible ways to identify the work that will come from our new team--nothing definite quite yet. I will mainly be editing, but in theory, I will also find time to write, and I aim to try hard to make that happen. Over the next couple of months, you'll see some of my work in Style, the Magazine and elsewhere.
The future of paying for news online is very much in flux. There have been reports about something of a cartel of major newspaper organizations getting together to plan how to charge for news online. And there are rumors that some very big news organizations are moving in that direction, and quickly. I know of no such thinking at The Post, but obviously, there's a crying need for a new business model for journalism in all countries where it has been mainly advertising supported.
Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Nelson's show was "The District." How about a hard one: What was Cleavon Little's D.C.-based show?
Marc Fisher: Correct--anybody up to that new challenge?
TV Show: Edward Asner -- Lou Grant takes up another newspaper job in the Internet age. "Hey! Someone ger that Web out of the computer! It's gonna short it out!"
Marc Fisher: No way--he's way too old, sorry, Ed. We're looking to lower our average age of reader, not raise it!
Albany, N.Y.: Having moved away, I read online, so I don't know this: Did the dead-tree Post mention the Wone murder story somewhere, with a plug to say "go to dotcom to find the full story"? If not, why not? If so, why are people complaining? They got the story, exactly the way the reporter and editor wanted to tell it, just not in a foldable version. I don't mind the fact that "War and Peace," which I'm reading now, doesn't come in a foldable edition.
Marc Fisher: Yes, the move that got a lot of folks upset was a promo in the dead trees edition directing readers to this here web site to read the Wone story. Many readers felt abused by that device--they paid for their paper and want to get the full report there.
I believe they cut them into chunks because some readers find it more convenient to have bite-sized pieces of a story on each page; luckily, all readers can choose the way they want the story presented.: Marc: You're getting sweet in your old age...they cut them into chunks because of the ads....
Marc Fisher: I don't doubt that there may be a commercial benefit to that move, but I can tell you that there is also an editorial rationale for it, and that the experts in online reading habits say that dividing a story into chunks makes it more accessible and attractive to lots of folks. Not me, maybe not you, but beware of drawing conclusions from your own preferences.
NE D.C.: Regarding the Northern Virginia dog dilemma, here's Hubby's solution: Dog Watching. Several times a week my dog-fancier sweetie and I set out a bowl of water in the local dog park and meet other peoples' dogs. Admiring and playing with dogs owned by others is a lot less trouble than dog ownership, and cheaper, too. It's a great way to form lasting friendships with four- and two-footed neighbors, too.
Marc Fisher: Hmm, a compromise. Well, yes, I suppose you're right. But on behalf of my close friend Binary Man, I want to see a Yes or No answer on the dog dilemma. You know which way I go.
Mike, Arlington: Are you suggesting that Deeds and Moran are splitting the anti-Terry vote or are they splitting the Virginia establishment vote? Personally I have already voted for Moran but could stomach Deeds well before Terry.... Thanks!
Marc Fisher: My guess is Moran and Deeds split both of those groups you've mentioned--those who follow Virginia politics closely and respect Deeds and/or Moran for their work in Richmond and perhaps resent McAuliffe for swooping in with big buckets of cash and no previous connection to Virginia government, and those who just plain don't like Terry.
McAuliffe has been upfront and honest about his view that he wins if and only if he can draw voters who don't ordinarily take part in state primaries--that is, those who aren't necessarily politics junkies.
Ed Asner: No you don't get it. Surround him with a hot young cast one of whom will always get in a jam, and grandfatherly ole Lou takes down his Pultizer and imparts gems of journalistic wisdom from back in the days of hand-set type. "Now here's how Murrow would have handled this ..."
Marc Fisher: A cross-generational buddy approach? I'm skeptical but maybe. Whom would you pair him with?
Alexandria, Va.: As we approach one o'clock, I have to say, you're wrong about dogs.
Marc Fisher: And surely about so much else too. I can definitely agree with that.
McLean, Va.: So long, Marc.
Write if you get work.
Marc Fisher: Hey, I did! Now the question is, can I keep it?
Re: Bob Grant: I tried to figure out how Bob Grant has anything to do with "kicking things in the head," and have been unable to come up with a concrete connection. Can you finally explain this one?
I have looked forward to your weekly chat to fill the lunchtime lull for many years. Good luck in your next endeavor!
Marc Fisher: Thanks for asking.
Bob Grant, the legendary New York City radio talk show host who was inaccurately credited with being the first shock-jock and with telling callers to "go gargle with razor blades," for many years signed off each show with these words:
"That kicks things in the head for today. Til tomorrow, Bob Grant saying, remember, your influence counts. U-u-u-u-se it! Get Qaddafi!"
That's where I got a bit of my signoff from. And now you know the Rest of the Story.
Capitol Hill, D.C.: So sorry to learn that you're ending the column. Especially with the (local) battle raging over closing 7th Street, SE, in front of Eastern Market.
The battle focuses on keeping the Market's businesses viable (and thereby keeping the Market alive) or on turning the street into a weekend park for strollers. The local merchants -- both those from inside the Market and those whose businesses face the Market -- argue that closing the street has cost them customers and income. Some say that they are really suffering. Associations of the local merchants have voted for permanently reopening the streets. On the other hand, the mayor recently promised to close it on weekends, when the merchants argue that the closing really hurts.(I think that everyone wants to avoid repeating the failures of the Georgetown and O Street Markets.)
I understand that you have sometimes shopped at the Market. So, I had hoped that you'd investigate this controversy. And explain what's at stake.
Marc Fisher: Good issue and one we should take a look at--thanks for the suggestion. I may not write it myself, but perhaps I can see if we can do something on that.
Lincoln Park, D.C.: Consider keeping the blog up and using it occasionally to solicit input for developing projects and posting links to newly completed stories.
The most useful blog feedback is often from readers, not commenters. For example, when a blog's statistical dashboard indicates high reader interest in specific older posts, it is clearly time to revisit those topics.
Marc Fisher: Great minds think alike--that's exactly the sort of approach we're working on.
Ex-Pat, Canada: Marc --
I cried, literally, when I read of your departure. I read on-line to fight off homesickness, and your column and chat did much to help. Selfishly, I want the OLD paper Post to stay the same. I worry that I wouldn't recognize the paper in the flesh anymore. Seemingly, a lot of the features and/or writers have been scrapped or reduced.
Anyhow, thanks, and I hope you can make a difference to the future of a vibrant Post. Sadly, I am blue and feeling pessimistic.
Marc Fisher: Don't be blue--if you come back to town, you will very much recognize the paper that you left behind. Yes, it's thinner--but so is virtually every print magazine and newspaper on the planet. That's a reflection of the decline and shifting sands of advertising--that's a story no one has done well. But people still want the news delivered in a credible, accessible and smart way, and we're still aiming to do that every day.
Cab Meters and their impact on Drivers: If Drivers were making more money unethically abusing the zone system to squeeze more money out of their customers, should we really lament their newfound decline in revenue?
"I might have to go do somethinh else now that I can't cheat people out of money" isn't really a statement that garners much sympathy from me.
Marc Fisher: I knew that was coming. Yes, the new system is more easily tracked--drivers are more accountable. That's good. But no one is going to leave the business unless they're losing money--and some are indeed leaving the business. How many and whether that's going to kill off what had been a great taxi system is entirely unclear. I don't think anyone has enough data on that, though the city is supposedly now studying the issue.
Herndon, Va.: Mr. F: thank you, thank you for your columns and these "chats," which were always enjoyable, usually enlightening, and only occasionally ugly (when you said something with which I disagreed). I hope your new job will involve some contact with your "public." Good luck!
Marc Fisher: Thanks, but is it really ugly if we disagree? I think it's just so much more interesting than if we agreed, no?
Arlington, VA: How could you not mention in your lat chat ever that Koko Taylor died today! Bummer Marc. I lost all respect for you man!
washingtonpost.com: Blues queen Koko Taylor dies at 80 (AP, June 3)
Marc Fisher: Consider it mentioned. Plus Carradine. These stories tend to come in threes. I don't wish anyone the worst, but I'll bet that by day's end, there's a troika of celeb deaths.
Dupont Circle: Marc,
Stupid question, but can you tell me where I can find your future work? Is there a link?
Marc Fisher: No, not a stupid question at all. The stories will be both in The Post in print and here on the web site. You can search my stories by byline in our search box, and we're going to try to find a good way to identify the stories from our new Enterprise team.
Ed Asner: Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus
Marc Fisher: Yikes--I know opposites are supposed to attract, but do you have to test the theory so harshly?
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the McAuliffe campaign: Hasn't paid his dues in Virginia politics. Ask Senator Mark Warner why he lost his first race and he'll say he hadn't proven himself to the rank and file yet. So he went back out there, toured the state and won his next election. Terry McA needs to learn from that. Deeds will be going to Richmond.
Marc Fisher: I do hear that argument quite a bit--will voters agree with you? Dunno.
re: since there isn't really a half-a-dog compromise solution available. : You might still be able to find one of those AIBO robot dogs on ebay.
Seriously though, it's the dog you both should be considering. He doesn't want to live in a house where one person hates him. It's easier to just not get a dog, than to get one and find out it's not going to work out.
Marc Fisher: Good point.
Ft. Washington, Md.: You and I rarely saw eye-to-eye on the issues of the day and I sometimes felt you took positions just to provoke readers but I appreciate you giving us readers this lively forum for debate and sharing. Good luck!
Marc Fisher: Many thanks to you and all of you, too, for exactly the same reasons.
Metro Center, D.C.: "I will be moving into a new role at The Post, putting together a team of writers to add a new dimension to coverage of the Washington area. We hope you'll soon see -- both in print and online -- some deeper and richer stories that tell us about how we live and about the essential issues and people in this region."
Sorry, Marc, this just doesn't sound very promising to me, especially if it means losing your columns, Raw Fisher blog, AND weekly online chats. The trade-off seems too great, and that photo-blog on the recession doesn't sound very compelling. Bring back your blog!
Marc Fisher: There will be replacements, and I think some very strong ones.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc,
I just want to wish you well in your new position, like many others I will greatly miss your column in the paper. Isn't there any way that you can continue to do online chats though? The debate here the last few years has been excellent. Either way, good luck and thanks for the columns and chats.
Marc Fisher: I do hope to be back here in this format on an occasional basis--and perhaps quite soon. Thanks.
Chantilly, Va.: Marc: Two comments.
1. This really kicks things in the head, doesn't it? Fatally this time, so to speak.
2. The Nats remind me of the 63-65 Mets. Like the 62 version, horrifically bad, losers of 100 games or more each season, but unlike the 62 Mets, not lovable. Just bad. The Mets fans were rewarded starting in 66 when the nucleus of the Amazing 69 team began to take shape.
Wonder when the Nats will finally move from bad to promising?
Also, remember the first Nats season -- they were 19 games over .500 at the All-Star break and in the thick of the wild card race. It's been downhill -- way downhill -- ever since.
Marc Fisher: It has been sadly very much downhill, though this year's squad, despite the appalling record, is more interesting and rewarding to watch than last year's bunch of mediocrities.
Washington, D.C.: I just wanted to comment on the size of your audience and impact you had, at least in my small part of northwest Washington. You interviewed me once about the selection of a principal in D.C. Although you spelled my name seriously wrong, almost everyone I know read the column and commented to me about it. A short time later I was interviewed on Fox 5's morning show by Tony Perkins about a different subject. Only one person noticed. Newspapers still have an impact when they deal with local issues, and the columns and articles are written by a skilled practitioner. Thanks for all the good work you have done.
Marc Fisher: Many thanks and belated apologies for the misspelling. I'm usually especially careful about names, if only because my own causes lots of people confusion on the spelling front. Sorry about that.
S. Rockville, Md.: Marc,
You'll come back and visit with chats from time to time, won't you?
Who else will tell us about the Roy Pearsons of the world?
Marc Fisher: If I get a sniff of another Pants Man or anything remotely as juicy, you can be sure I will get it into the paper one way or another.
Get over yourself already: and get the dog. They're nice beings. They trust you, are your best freind, PROTECT you. They aren't that bad. You seem to want to stick with your position more as a point of pride. It's a dog. It'll make you its biggest hero, how bad could it be? You'll survive and your family will love you.
Marc Fisher: Another view.
Silver Spring, Md.: Marc, thanks for the run. You've been one of the best local columnists I've found in my relocation from D.C. out and around and now back. Thanks for your efforts and please reinforce the benefits these live chats bring to your readers and the newspaper/Internet journalism. It really provides for a sense of community greater than the paper could alone provide.
Marc Fisher: Very kind of you. Ok, only a couple more of these and we're out of here.
Maryland: Hi Marc,
First, I wanted to state that I was very disappointed to read the news that you will no longer be a regular staff writer with the Post. That is, in all sincerity, a big loss to the paper.
Second, if I could ask you to genuinely answer, what would be one thing you would change about the paper if you were in charge?
Marc Fisher: Great question--I guess I would try to resist the temptation to shape our journalism according to the readership numbers that the web provides--the exact read-outs on how many readers click on each story. Having that sort of data, which we never had in any reliable way during the print era, pushes some editors at some publications toward catering to the lowest common denominator, and I think it's essential to resist that tendency and provide a full, deep, serious but also fun report on the world as our reporters find it to be, without pandering to our common taste for easy and meaningless stuff (hey, I read that stuff too!)
Rockville, Md.: I wouldn't be sorry to see you leave. You've been a dishonest purveyor of news, as exemplified by your latest tirade against Mayor Fenty, and biased Op-Ed writer. Good bye and remember here is one person who wouldn't miss your columns or chats.
Marc Fisher: Thanks--it wouldn't be the same without you.
Enterprise team: Will the stories produced be on-line only or in both the print and web versions of the Post?
Marc Fisher: Both.
Washington, D.C.: Marc,
You've done a wonderful job reporting on the battle for equal marriage in D.C. Nearly all the reporting on it in the Post I've seen has come from you.
One of your fellow writers wrote an article yesterday about the 100 or so clergy who ammased to support same-sex marriage and it appeared online Tuesday night. By Wednesday morning, it was taken down. Does this reflect a change in how the Post will be covering the fight for gay civil rights in the city?
Marc Fisher: I don't know anything about that--lots of stories appear on the site only briefly and are supplanted by other pieces as the news cycle continues, but I just don't know the particulars in this case.
Silver Spring, Md.: As the chief defender at The Post of the usage "Washington National Airport" minus that legislated-in-1998 prefix, can you please reassure loyal readers that you'll continue to do so in your new post? Please?
Marc Fisher: The name imposed by the occupying force will never pass my fingers.
Capitol Hill: Good luck Marc. I can't tell you how many times I have told my wife about something that "Grumpy Marc Fisher" wrote. Although I disagreed with you most of the time, you still covered several important topics. With you moving up and TK moving on, is the Post searching for other Grumps?
Marc Fisher: I certainly hope so. Though it would be nice to be remembered as The Grump.
MoCo, Md.: Marc --
Thanks for your writing. I appreciate your thoughtful, common-sense tone.
A number of years ago, I think you wrote a column or two about nights spent in the hospital while your child was sick. Is there any way to link to those columns? I remember the writing as a really touching, heart-felt description parenthood.
Thanks again. And good luck on your next adventure.
--A mid-30s print subscriber who loves newspapers
Marc Fisher: Thanks so much--let me see if we can rustle that up.
Washington, D.C.: Marc: We'll miss your effective reporting and thought-provoking columns. Reporting on local issues is critically important and we hope The Post is not reducing local coverage. Based on your experience with your blog and chats, what do you see as the best ways for newspapers to continue their coverage of local community planning issues and to serve as an interactive forum? Best of luck to you.
Marc Fisher: Thanks very much--newspapers can continue to be local watchdogs, but not if they cut the hearts out of their staff. That said, you cannot support a substantial news operation on the basis of people paying 75 cents or even $2 for a newspaper. Our business is largely dependent on advertising, and that's where the tough questions come into play. Is the current crisis going to ease after the recession? Or is this an elemental shift in how people behave? Probably some of each. So the question for the news business going forward is how to find revenue online and how to make print papers attractive and still do aggressive, important reporting. We shall see.
Marc Fisher: Well, that, um, yes, kicks things in the head for today. I won't quite say "forever," because there will be future editions of Potomac Confidential, at least here or there.
Thanks very much to all of you for reading, commenting and coming back each week. It's been a blast. Let's get together again sometime. And do write if you get work.
washingtonpost.com: Life Lessons At Every Turn At Children's (Post, Jan. 18, 2004)
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