In Saturday’s Style section profile of forthcoming Washington, D.C. local news site TBD, the Washington Post does not even attempt to hide its disdain for the project, helmed by ex-WaPo people. “TBD.com — odd name, but let’s move on,” the article begins. What are we moving onto? Another dig, right away: TBD “seems to be the answer to a question that no one has really been asking: Do media-saturated Washington and its environs need yet another source of information about Washington and its environs?” This is a lesson in how to play it when you see your ex.
When you see your ex — especially a recent ex — you might, for instance, pretend like everything is okay. You’ll warmly embrace, you’ll catch up, you’ll compliment the new man or woman. “You seem great!” through clenched teeth. But it’s passable and hopefully they come away thinking you’re happy, composed.
Or maybe you go batshit insane, turn beet red, storm off.
But there’s a middle ground, in which you stick around for a chat, ostensibly playing the put-it-behind-you part, but really thirsting for blood. Everything you say is loaded with subtext, bursting with aggression, but alternating between passive aggressive and aggressive aggressive. You might not really want to talk, but you can’t pull yourself away. You’re not really in control. That’s the Washington Post in this case.
Here’s the relationship history: Allbritton Communications, the company behind TBD, has been slowly chipping away at the Post‘s regional dominance for years now, beginning with politics, obviously the area’s most crucial arena, with the website Politico, co-founded by John Harris and Jim VandeHei, formerly of the Post.
Now, TBD’s team — headed by general manager Jim Brady, the ex-editor of washingtonpost.com — is coming for a piece of the local news pie. And the Post is the scorned lover — more successful, more beautiful maybe, but stuck in a rut, gaining weight, losing its confidence. And so they have the conversation — that is, they cover TBD’s launch — but they also lash out:
By Allbritton’s reckoning, the site will supply an all-encompassing local news fix, with a side of whimsy and quirkiness thrown in.
That’s the passive aggression. This, too:
The early line suggests that TBD will primarily be an aggregator of local news coverage, relying on all those fishmongers and bakers for its daily feed.
Remember who really makes the news, the Post says flat out. You see, “the heavy lifting will be done by linking to other news sources, including direct competitors such as washingtonpost.com and WTOP.com, the two most-popular local Web-news sources in the region.” And don’t you forget it.
Some slights are less nuanced:
Local-news sites, of course, aren’t exactly an exotic species, and TBD is wading into a crowded pool. With the continued humbling of the newspaper industry, lots of former ink-stained wretches have started Web sites to cover their home towns.
Even when citing a relatively successful local news site, their traffic is called “microscopic” when compared “with the likes of The Post’s site, which draws in excess of a million people a day.” The Post is also happy to highly TBD’s managed expectations:
Brady says he’s “very competitive” but plays down the TBD vs. Post angle. “You don’t have to be number one to be successful,” he says. “I think the field is so wide open right now that there’s room for more. . . . It’s not some fight to the death.”
It’s not that it’s unfair. The Post lets the TBD say its piece and its jabs are not completely misguided; they are based in fact. Still, these are the actions and the words of the threatened, doubts from a storied organization not quite as confident as they once were. So if some insecurity comes through, sure, it’s there. But ask anyone with an ex — there’s something a little sexy about being prickly. Plus, it shows you still care.