Young people don’t read newspapers because ‘we aren’t mobile or jazzy’

There was a lot of questioning some years ago about whether the press as we know it would survive because of the Internet and so on. What’s your expectation? I’d hate to tell you how old I was when I first heard that. I remember when Asahi first came out with a machine that looked like an iron lung and was billed as a machine that would manufacture your paper and deliver it at the same time – you know, that has not turned out to be a threat. There’s something going on that is interesting: In news broadcasting, television news, the audience has decreased by something like 20-30 percent, newspapers go bananas if they lose a percent. The Post has been losing about a percent a year in daily circulation. A percent and a half on Sunday, but it still has 800,000 daily and over a million (on Sunday) and it’s a better newspaper. What has happened is for reasons best known and I guess there are thousands of reasons; children aren’t reading. I bet you started awfully young. I know I started awfully young, fighting my father for the sports section. But that just doesn’t happen now. I have a child – my 22-year-old doesn’t read a newspaper. I have a next brood who is older, a girl who is 40-something and she will read a paper three or four times a week. I have another one who is developing buildings in Pennsylvania and he reads about three or four times a week, maybe more. And then I have one in the business. My son was at the Boston Globe for years. But children don’t read. You have no idea how to get them to read? I guess if anybody did, they would do it. We’re all standing on our heads. Is that true in Europe? Are children reading? Readership is aging. I think it’s television. We’re not mobile enough and we’re not jazzy enough. But we set the agenda. We do. Television follows the newspapers. Yes it does. It makes me feel good. Recently the Washington Post has played a major role in presenting photos out of Abu Ghraib, which some people have said has been damaging to the American troops. Does one evaluate these things or is news news? It would be so nice if there was so sharp and clear distinction, wouldn’t it? If you are trying to report and you’re interested in the truth of why a country feels the way Iraq does toward America, you can’t avoid that. You’ve just got to do it. Now, you can crop a picture if you want. You know, you X out the private parts of the prisoners. If you wanted to use photos to whip up the American public about it, you would have really done an entirely different job. You would have played more pictures. You would have played them bigger. You’d have cropped them differently. Do you feel that the press plays a very important role in shaping policy by politicians? Think for a minute, what plays more? Even if there is an event that is much more important, like 9/11, it’s the press that creates a currency out of it, that makes it history. I meant the press as an institution. Does it play the leading role that it once did? I think at least as much if not more. I am such a news junkie; I mean, I watch news at least an hour and a half at night. And then I see people in Washington who are part of the press, or whom the press is covering. I’m going to write a book, I think, about lying. I’m really interested in lying. About how it has become socially OK for a politician to lie, not only a politician but a bank president, a stock exchange president, reporters, they don’t think that the cost is prohibitive. I’ve been checking with all my friends, you know: «When is the last lie you told…» – not counting, «you look great» or «I feel swell» – they don’t do it. And if they did it when they were young, I remember my father just took a hairbrush to me and whacked me. I don’t think that happens now. What is the code that makes the press behave? Is it because people admire you, for example, and want to act the way you did? Because I don’t see any other control rather than admiring role models. Role models are important, I’m sure, but society generally rewards people that the culture has decided are right without being heroic. There was a time in America when reporters suddenly became socially important, it was OK for your daughter to marry a reporter, it was OK for your daughter to become a reporter. It was OK for reporters to join leadership institutions. They paid reporters finally. So I think society quietly makes that decision, and it has. I think the press is, in the last 10 or 15 years, so much better than when I was starting out. The editors are better. They write books. I’m thinking of Lou Cannon. I don’t know how he feels operating in there, but he’s like a loose torpedo in the bowels of the ship.