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Former Publisher of the Washington Post Speaks at October’s Faculty Luncheon

 

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Columbus School of Law faculty and staff members enjoyed an unusual peek into the inner workings of one of America’s most storied newspapers on Oct. 23, when Boisfeuillet (Bo) Jones, Jr. was the invited guest speaker at the monthly faculty luncheon. 
 
Now retired, Jones was the former vice chairman of The Washington Post Company and chairman of The Washington Post board from 2008-2011. From 2000 to 2008 he was the newspaper’s publisher and chief executive officer.  Most recently, Jones served as president and chief executive officer of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions in Arlington, VA.
 
Jones had much to say about his years of association with the Post, work that began in 1980 as vice president and counsel and that was always a labor of love. He shared warm recollections of former executive editor Ben Bradlee, who passed away just two days before.

Despite Bradlee’s tough guy reputation, based in part on his willingness to confront the Nixon Administration over the Post’s historic Watergate investigation, Jones said Bradlee cared deeply about the impact that the newspaper could wield on the lives of the powerless. He would urge his reporters to think very carefully about including details in their stories that could “ruin people’s lives.”
 
On the subject of Watergate, Jones observed that its film depiction in the popular hit “All the President’s Men” overstated the role of “Deep Throat,” the confidential background informant who was one of the most closely protected sources in journalistic history until he chose to self-identify as Mark Felt, then-associate director of the FBI.
 
Felt’s role, said Jones, was more confirmatory than revelatory.  He generally didn’t spill dark government secrets, but rather told the Post's reporters whether they were on the right investigatory track or not.
 
Historical dishing aside, Jones spent the bulk of his time explaining the tremendous changes that American newspapers have faced in the past 20 years or so. Despite predictions that all-news cable channels would drive newspapers to extinction, the 1980s and 1990s were two of the most profitable decades in the Post’s history.
 
Online news, however, is a different story. It has prompted fundamental changes in every print newsroom. Among them:
 
 
  • Eighty percent of the Post’s online readers are outside of the D.C./Baltimore media market, obliging editors to reconsider the resources they devote to local news.
     
  • For coverage of statehouse news, the Post and most of the other major dailies now rely almost exclusively on the Associated Press.
     
  • Post reporters are expected to be multi-media journalists, willing and able to publish and appear in video online.
     
  • The day may not be far off when online subscribers can buy access to the Post for an hour, or a day, rather than monthly or annual subscriptions.
“Everything is more fragmented now,” said Jones.
 
Entertaining questions from faculty members, Jones observed that it is very difficult to accurately predict where the newspaper industry will be in five or ten years’ time. A few years ago, the Post felt it had no choice but to raise the price of the daily edition to $1.25, a fee it wasn’t sure the public would accept.
 
“We knew we had that bullet in our gun to fire, but we didn’t want to do that,” he said.
 
The paper is unlikely to bump up the price again. While Jones is confident the Washington Post will continue as one of the leading lights of American journalism, looking down the line a few years from now, he said “I don’t know if they’ll still be a print paper” to read over breakfast in the morning.