How the Washington Post was lost

In this landscape, The Wall Street Journal has a clear role as the paper of the American business class, with The Economist, The Financial Times and the Bloomberg empire as its supplements and competitors. The New York Times fills a similar role for the intelligentsia and the liberal professional classes. The Huffington Post is basically the nation’s left-wing tabloid, and it has several right-wing rivals and imitators. ESPN.com serves as the nation’s sports page. And then various outlets, from BuzzFeed to The Atlantic, are competing to find or build a general-interest niche.

Since there aren’t that many major niches, most existing newspapers were always going to be losers from this shift.

But The Washington Post was different, because even though the Grahams placed a fierce emphasis on being a local paper, the locality The Post covers is inherently national. And given that D.C.’s influence has only increased in the last 20 years, and the public’s interest in national politics has surged, it would have been entirely natural for The Post to become, in the new-media dispensation, the paper of record for political coverage — the only must-read for people who run the country, who want to run it, who think they run it, etc.

Instead, it’s possible to date the moment when that opportunity slipped away: it happened in 2006, when John Harris and Jim VandeHei left The Post to found Politico.