Political Animal


November 04, 2012 8:55 AM Are the Washington Post’s editorial and business divisions on a collision course?

By Kathleen Geier

This Washington Post story about the financial condition of the Washington Post Co. is illuminating. Unsurprisingly, but worryingly, its newspaper and online divisions are big money losers. Somewhat surprising is that its education division, Kaplan, is also a financial drain.

And yet, overall, the Post is making money, reporting “sharply higher earnings in the third quarter of this year.” What’s keeping them afloat is the Post’s broadcast division:

The broadcast division fared best. Revenue jumped 44 percent, to $106.4 million, in the third quarter, and operating income more than doubled, to $54.1 million, compared with the third quarter of 2011. Political advertising revenue rose $15.6 million at the company’s three stations in Florida, two in Texas and one in Michigan. Advertising linked to the Olympics on the company’s NBC affiliates provided an additional $10.8 million. Even without those, the broadcast stations’ revenue increased.

It’s interesting that such a huge chunk of their revenue stream comes from political advertising. Editorially, the paper has continued to support campaign finance reform and to take a strong stand against super-PACs and Citizens United-type funding. This is laudable. But given the fact that political ad revenue is now the company’s lifeblood, it remains to be seen how long the editorial division can maintain its independence on this front. The paper’s editorial values may be on a collision course with the company’s bottom line.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • Russell Sadler on November 04, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Thanks for digging this out, Kathleen. Some of us would have missed it. It's important to note that if the entire WaPo enterprise is surviving on broadcast political ads, that revenue is cyclical and this cycle is coming to a close. Hummmm.

  • c u n d gulag on November 04, 2012 11:08 AM:

    Yes, the Editorial page is still sane - and good. And the reporting is still mostly solid.

    But the Op-ed page, for the most part, has a bunch of brain-damaged apes flinging their poo every which way, seeing what sticks.
    Freddy's crew is starting to rival the WSJ's Op-ed when it comes to madness and bedlam.

    And Russell Sadler beat me to my other point, which is that the Citizens United spigot will be off until the Congressioanl races in 2014.

    Oh, what to do, what to do?
    You can't even sell the Op-ed page to fishmongers - because they don't want to insult the intelligence of the poor dead fish by wrapping their bodies in it like it was a shroud of imbecility.
    And you can't give it away to owners of birds to line their cages with, because one look at Krauthammer's sour puss by his column will constipate the most diarrhetic of parrots, and one look at Will will turn love-birds into Hatfield v. McCoy vultures.

  • TCinLA on November 04, 2012 11:26 AM:

    This will all change on Wednesday.

  • cwolf on November 04, 2012 11:45 AM:

    "...political ad revenue is now the companyís lifeblood..."

    Will that be true next week?

  • tsts on November 04, 2012 12:00 PM:

    "Unsurprisingly, but worryingly, its newspaper and online divisions are big money losers."

    Why is this something to worry about? Any newspaper that publishes freaks and extremists like Krauthammer, Gerson, Cohen, etc, has no business staying in business. Seems like the market is working, at least in this case.

  • mudwall jackson on November 04, 2012 12:47 PM:

    where does it say political advertising is the company's lifeblood? the last line says even if you take away political advertising, plus olympics-related advertising, revenue from the broadcast division still increased.

    In fact, the 10Q for the second quarter filed in august notes "improved advertising demand across many product categories" including political advertising. (the Q for the 3rd quarter wand not available on EDGAR)

    even before citizens united, elections were bonanzas for owners of TV stations, especially one that has three in stations in one of the most fought over states in the country. but TV stations generally make money anyway, election year or not.

    the washington post co. will survive until the next election cycle when hopefully you'll have presidential candidates from both parties battling for an open white house. the washington post itself, well that's a bit of problem to say the least.

  • golack on November 04, 2012 12:50 PM:

    Gee, and I wonder why all the talking head shows like to cover the "horse race" aspect of the election ;)

  • jjm on November 04, 2012 12:50 PM:

    c u n d gulag on November 04, 2012 11:08 AM: The obvious remedy is for WaPo to fire its current crop of op-ed writers and go for the smart young people who are popping up all over, from the kids over at MSNBC to their own Ezra and Greg, although there are many many more. (Actually, it's really refreshing to see younger people who haven't fallen for the 'you, too, will be rich someday, which excuses all bad behavior on our part, or your part' con.)

    Their readership would surely rise, and I'll they can hire these younger folks for less than they pay the fossils like Krauthammer...

  • Informant on November 04, 2012 1:01 PM:

    Are the Washington Postís editorial and business divisions on a collision course?

    I'd say they executed an Andrea Dorea/Stockholm re-enactment quite some years ago myself.

  • Larry Reilly on November 04, 2012 1:26 PM:

    Kaplan not doing so well might be news to you, but it's not to those who have been actually reading the news, ultimately in the Post, too, over the past few years.

    Kaplan became a very profitable scam of sorts -- one that hit both students and the U.S. public fisc. It has been going down for quite a while now that the game was stopped.

    Welcome to the surprise.

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