Washington, D.C., Asharq Al-Awsat- Despite 25 years since the Washington Times was established, the American newspaper continues to incur losses every year. The most optimistic observers expected the newspaper to close in six months. However, it has continued for over 25 years to sell approximately 105,000 copies a day compared to the Washington Post, which was founded in 1877 and sells over 750,000 copies a day. In the following interview with the editor-in-chief of the Washington Times, Wesley Pruden, he reveals the secret behind the newspaper’s continuation despite losses and the competition with the Washington Post. He also talks to Asharq Al Awsat about the future of the press in light of the rising popularity of the online news.
Q) What were the reasons behind establishing the Washington Times? What are its aims and what is its political orientation?
A) The newspaper was founded in the early 1980s. It is owned by the New World Communications group, which is owned by a group of Korean businessmen and is located in the state of Virginia. The aim of the founding of the Washington Times back then was to compete with the Washington Post after the daily Washington Evening Star newspaper was closed in 1981.
The Washington Times is a conservative newspaper. However, when it comes to news it is amongst the best of liberal newspapers because our conservative affiliation only appears in the opinion editorials. The Washington Times can be described as “back to the future” press as we focus on the message that is delivered to the reader and regard precision and the truth as the two main criteria for news. As the former mayor of New York said, there is no “democratic” way to resolve a murder case, just as there is no “republican” way to extinguish a fire. I can add to that there is no conservative or liberal way to write the news.
Q) Considering the newspaper is owned by Korean businessmen, could we call it a Korean newspaper?
A) No, it is a 100% American newspaper. The aim of the establishment of the newspaper was to compete with the Washington Post, and there is nothing mysterious or intriguing about that. We rank 91 in the world’s [top] newspapers. However, because we are based in Washington we are different from many other American newspapers. The American press model depends on locality as each newspaper mainly covers news on the state, region, or city in which it is based. However, we publish from Washington, the center of events, as Congress and the White House are situated here, therefore we become a source for other newspapers.
Q) You mentioned that your aim was to compete with the Washington Post. However, over the past 25 years, the Washington Post’s readership is much higher than that of the Washington Times. Does this reflect a failure in reaching required levels?
A) It depends on how you define “required levels.” We sell approximately 105,000 copies daily while the Washington Post sells 750,000 copies. However, if you look at our newspaper, you will find that we work according to the identified and required standards of the press.
Q) In your opinion, what makes a potential reader unwilling to buy the newspaper? Are you satisfied with the circulation figures?
A) Naturally, I am not satisfied with our figures; I wish that our rates reached one million copies daily. However, I would not call it “unwillingness.” Some like to read the Washington Post and others like the Washington Times; it is called freedom of choice. However, the real problem lies in the lack of reading in the United States as a whole. Forty years ago when I first came to Washington, there were four daily newspapers. Now there are two. In New York, twelve dailies were printed, but now there are only three. Over the past five or six years, many daily newspapers have been shut down and have withdrawn from the American market. The reason is the tough competition with TV news channels as well as the internet, as many young people like to get their daily news fix online.
Q) What are the political concerns of the newspaper?
A) We work in the context of national security. Therefore, we cover the political news in depth. We are also keen to provide services to our readers. In addition, we have a good section on sports and an equally good section on international news that deals with international events more than any other American newspaper. We strongly support the free market. At times, The Washington Times is called the “newspaper of America,” not because we are the largest or the most important newspaper but because we try to present the best of America.
Q) Which are the reports that the Washington Times has received before other newspapers? What is the ratio of national news to international news? What are your sources for the news items that you cover?
A) We have received a good number of stories before others. We were the first newspaper to interview Condoleezza Rice after she became US Secretary of State. We were also the first American newspaper to interview the Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and the Iraqi former Prime Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari. We were also the first American paper to interview the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah. We wrote about Iran and the crisis of nuclear armament before the Washington Post and the New York Times and we covered news stories on Iraqi violence between the Sunni and the Shia.
Between 20% and 40% [of the stories] are dedicated to covering national news and a similar percentage to international news. Our sources are international news agencies, full-time and the freelance correspondents, in addition to the editors who travel with American officials. We also have a permanent office at the United Nations quarter that provides us with news related to current issues all over the world.
Q) What are the reasons behind the newspapers continuous losses? To what extent is editorial separate from advertising?
A) I do not interfere or discuss any financial matters. There is complete separation between editorial and business. A journalist does not discuss accounts or profits, and similarly, the financial directors do not discuss editorial policies.
We do incur losses this is a fact. I do not wish to discuss figures. There are many reasons for losses, as the market is very competitive. We compete with a strong newspaper, the Washington Post that has a history of 100 years.
Q) Does that mean that it will take another 100 years for your newspaper to make profit?
A) To run a daily newspaper is not easy. We do not care about the number of advertisements but rather that we are publishing accurate news. If, for any reason, news editing conflicted with advertising, the news would take priority.
Q) After the September 11 attacks, the interest in the Middle East increased significantly. On what scale does the Washington Times cover events in this region, and how objective is the coverage?
A) The events of September 11 really caused the world to be much more concerned with the Middle East. The volume of our coverage certainly increased especially after the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. American interest show strong interest in the Middle East especially that we are at war in two countries in the region. Our role is to satisfy this interest.
Q) But does the American press only focus on bad aspects of the Middle East?
A) We will put across any positive aspects if we find them. It is difficult not to cover the violent events, as the region is regarded as one of the most violent in the world.
Q) Would you say that the written press is threatened by the internet?
A) Most newspapers post their content on the net.
Q) Why do people buy the newspaper if they can read the same material online free?
A) This is the question. The most successful papers lose the sales of thousands of copies while the number of internet users increases. I believe that the newspapers made a mistake to publish articles online but I do not think that this will change. On the other hand, some readers still prefer to read a newspaper whilst drinking their morning coffee. As an editorial team, we work hard to increase sales. As the number of online readers increases, so too do the advertisements. I think the advertisements on the website will be important revenue of the near future.
Q) How many members are there of the editorial team? What kind of salaries do they receive? What are your plans for the near future?
A) We have a team of 225 journalists, which includes editors, photographers, long-term and part-time correspondents. Their salaries range from 35,000 US Dollars to 125,000 US Dollars a year. Our plans are simply to continue doing our best and encouraging readers to read our newspaper.
Q) Do not you fear going bankrupt?
A) No because we always hold on to hope and aspire to the future. I believe we will continue for the next 25 years or even 50 or 100 years.