Washington Post update: iPad app still shines, Sally Quinn gets honored, and I remember the darker side—the Post’s role in Gary Webb’s suicide

imageDo Ben Bradlee and other Washington Post luminaries actually use the iPad app they touted in one hoot of a promo video? I suspect so.  What’s more, since my mostly favorable review of November 9, I’ve usually read the Post via the app. I have even accustomed myself to the vertical swiping needed to see all of a news section. Horizontal swipes take me to a different section. Logical enough? This may be the best interface yet in a newspaper app.

Major flaws remain in other areas. Is there  a search box? If so, I can’t find it. How about archival access, beyond promoted links to old stories? Zilch, as far as I can determine. What’s more, to my best knowledge, reader comments and most Post blogs are still AWOL. I’d hope that the Post would remedy these deficiencies, so I’ll feel I’m getting my money’s worth when the paper in February starts charging me $4 a month..

All in all, however, the app is a triumph of usability, and for a look at the design philosophy, I’d recommend Justin Ellis’s post in the Nieman Journalism Lab blog, complete with a video interview with Justin Ferrell, director of digital, mobile and new product design at the Post.

In other Post news:

imageSally Quinn, who has been kicked around by the Tea Party types as well as those at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum,  enjoyed  some well-deserved recognition from my friend Beth Solomon (no relation to the character in Scandals) at the Georgetown Dish. Read, see and hear Post publisher Katharine Weymouth’s Quinn tribute. I’ve got some reasons for liking  Quinn from afar (I don’t know her). First, I admire her for placing parenthood ahead of career to raise a child with Velo-Cardio-Facial Syndrome. Second, over the years, she has been a strong proponent of bipartisan socializing—which sounds trivial but actually isn’t. Perhaps with a little more of this, we could worry less about such partisan mischief on the Hill as threatened shutdowns of government.

image-On the darker side, both old and new hands at the Post and elsewhere should read Big Media’s Role in Gary Webb’s Death, by Robert Parry, an award-winning alum of the  Associated Press and Newsweek. Now publisher of consortiumnews.org, Parry makes a powerful case for the reportage that Webb turned out. Some of Washington’s supposed allies in Nicaragua were involved in the crack cocaine rings whose drugs ended up in the black ghettos in the United States. Webb should have won a Pulitzer. Instead, unable to find work, he committed suicide after the Post, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times sucked up to the CIA and the Reagan administration and Webb’s bosses at the San Jose Mercury News backed off. As noted in the paragraph on Ms. Quinn, there is a place for civility in public life. But it mustn’t come at the expense of the truth. While the Webb suicide is old news—he shot himself six years ago, on Dec. 10, 2004—the story bears repeating here. Coincidentally, in Scandals, whose plot I conceived years before Webb’s death, a reporter kills herself after her editors turn against her.

image–The Kaplan Higher Education division of the Washington Post Company is laying off five percent of its employees, some 750 people, and, yes, regardless of whatever the Post execs may say to the contrary, this is most emphatically related to the division’s legal problems—at least indirectly. Enrollment has slowed. With the feds breathing down Kaplan’s neck and other news organizations reporting fraud accusations, why wouldn’t Kaplan find it more difficult to recruit students? Here’s hoping that Kaplan can get back on track and help keep the parent company well enough off to tide the Post over as it re-invents itself for the digital era.

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David Rothman

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