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The Washington Times: A ‘miracle’ that has endured for 30 years

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2012

Starting a newspaper "is worth doing, and we make our first public appearance with a heady sense that we can do it. Our confidence rests in part on the zest and skills of the staff we have recruited. Just as importantly, it rests on the need we find expressed all over Washington for a new perspective on local, national and world events."

— From "Introducing The Washington Times," Monday, May 17, 1982

The headline of the main front-page story conceded it was an eleventh-hour "miracle" that the first edition even got out the door. On Page 2, Prince Charles was eagerly awaiting the birth of his first child with Princess Diana, even as British Sea Harrier warplanes were strafing Argentine military vessels ahead of an expected invasion of the Falkland Islands.

President Reagan's plan to abolish the Department of Education was mired in Congress. Actor Hugh Beaumont, the stern but wise father of "Leave It to Beaver" fame, had just died of a heart attack while visiting West Germany. The Atlantic Coast Conference's basketball coaches were considering the introduction of a 45-second shot clock, and officials at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course were debating whether to crack down on rowdy behavior ahead of the 1982 Preakness.

The final "Business Brief" item of the day concerned plans by cranberry juggernaut Ocean Spray Inc. for the national rollout of a newfangled "aseptic container made of layers of paper, foil and polyethylene" for its fruit drinks, the first so-called "juice box."

Every newspaper, every day, is a slice of history preserved in pulp and printer's ink. That very first issue of The Washington Times, debuting at a time when — as even the paper's first editorial noted — "so many papers, old and new, are closing," was launched to fill a commercial and an ideological void.

The demise of the Washington Star nine months earlier left the capital of the free world a one-newspaper town in an era when there were just three national broadcast networks, no cable channels and no Internet, and just a handful of weekly newsmagazines. The liberal editorial tilt of the nation's top news organs left a lot of room on the right for the upstart newspaper to cover stories and publish voices that others ignored and to pursue its mandate to champion "freedom, faith and family."

Against some considerable odds, and in the face of vicissitudes both internal and external, the newspaper and its www.washingtontimes.com website continue to pursue that mandate daily 30 years later.

It has chronicled daily life in a time rich in historical significance, recording and commenting on five presidents and seven presidential elections; the end of the Cold War and the dawn of the global war on terrorism; the impeachment of a president and the dramatic cocaine arrest of a D.C. mayor; and tragedies in Chernobyl, Columbine, Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Beslan, Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo.

The Times era also covers three Washington Redskins Super Bowl wins; the Republican Revolution of 1994 and the tea party revolt of 2010; the Black Monday market crash of 1987, the dot-com crash of 1999 and the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009; a presidential election that turned on hanging chads and one eight years later that produced the nation's first black commander in chief; an earthquake in the Eastern U.S., two popes, 16 Olympic Games, and 30 Academy Awards "Best Picture" honorees.

Overcoming considerable skepticism in the industry and the marketplace, the newspaper will mark the milestone Tuesday with a symposium exploring issues of family, faith, freedom and service, followed by a gala dinner at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel featuring keynote speaker Donald H. Rumsfeld, secretary of defense under President George W. Bush, and remarks by the Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, spiritual head of the Unification Church and son of The Washington Times' founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Also speaking will be Fox News investigative reporter John Stossel.

Proud heritage

Washington Times Chairman Dr. Douglas D.M. Joo said he is "very proud" of what the newspaper has contributed to the history of this country over the past 30 years, helping to establish freedom, shape American culture and make the family healthier. He said The Washington Times "has more than lived up to the ideas" it said was the reason for its creation, noting that former President Ronald Reagan once described the newspaper as a "loud and powerful voice" that helped America win the Cold War.

"We are proud of what The Washington Times has done and what it has become, including its excellence in reporting," Dr. Joo said. "The reporting is fair, neither right nor left, and its in-depth stories really tell the people what they need to know. We will continue that excellence in the future, providing focus on quality stories — those that impact people's lives."

Dr. Joo said those who read the newspaper will discover that "we have poured our heart into it," reaffirming Rev. Moon's mission of not only creating a newspaper, but also helping to create "a more reasonable world."

Thomas P. McDevitt, president of The Washington Times, said that while some critics once predicted the newspaper wouldn't last a month, "The Washington Times has held its own in the news media landscape for three decades. We owe that to loyal readers who have appreciated credible news coverage and shared our values over the years."

Leon Transeau, a former federal government worker, small-business owner and nonprofit executive, is one such reader.

The Times "has been there when other papers were not, on story after story," said Mr. Transeau, who is retired and now lives in Delaware. "You guys have been a leader in getting important news to the American people that does not get into the other media. For me and a lot of people I know, it's essential reading."

Ed Kelley recalls being a fan before he became an employee, taking over as the paper's editor last year after a longtime stint as a reporter and editor with The Oklahoman.

"I read The Times every day during a posting in Washington in the late 1980s, just a few years after the paper was launched," he said. "I admired it for its scrappy attitude and willingness to take on the journalistic group-think of Washington. And I liked specific touches: lots of color on its pages when color wasn't necessarily in vogue, strong metro coverage and the best sports section in town.

"Later, after I left Washington, I was able to keep up with The Times' journalism through its website, and saw the same attributes that helped establish the organization's brand 30 years ago. My impressions of strong reporting on politics and other key areas that have been important to readers for three decades have been reinforced many times since I returned to D.C. to be The Times' editor."

Breath of fresh air

From the outset, The Times proved to be a breath of fresh air for conservatives looking for a mainstream, professional news outlet that honored their principles and gave voice to their discontents. A daily multipage Commentary section, filled with writers not given platforms in other "prestige" media, quickly became essential reading for some, including one of the paper's earliest fans, President Reagan.

Addressing a group of YMCA "youth governors" at a June 1984 Rose Garden event, the Gipper ad libbed: "If you really want to get some history on this when you leave here, get a copy of The Washington Times."

Bo Hi Pak, the Korean businessman and diplomat who served as The Times' first president, said the paper's role was "not to bend to the right," but to "provide the balance so obviously lacking in many other major newspapers."

If its editorial pages carved a distinctive conservative identity, the newsroom's willingness to skewer the powerful on an equal-opportunity basis earned it fans — and readers — across the ideological spectrum.

"I will reliably report to you that it was an awful lot of fun in a Democratic White House to read The Washington Times every day, [with its] great insights into the infighting among movement conservatives," President Clinton's White House spokesman Michael McCurry told The Times for the volume marking the newspaper's 20th anniversary. "It skewered the Clinton administration on a regular basis, but we turned to The Washington Times to find out what the other side, the Republicans, were doing. … The Times has much better sources on the right than much of the mainstream press."

The paper's commitment to national defense and the value of military service led to some of the most focused and substantive coverage of issues facing the military of any mainstream news outlet in the country, from matters of grand national strategy to the gripes and frustrations of ordinary grunts and their families, tracked in depth in a column by "Sgt. Shaft."

Taking the lead

The paper proved itself repeatedly willing to pursue stories and scandals that the established media gatekeepers dismissed or overlooked: the book-publishing deals that brought down Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright; the House Bank scandal; the reprimand for Rep. Barney Frank; Whitewater and the personal scandals that dogged Mr. Clinton throughout his presidency; the massive Promise Keepers march on Washington; the ethical shortcomings of a string of D.C. mayors; China's military buildup and its efforts to infiltrate the American military and commercial establishment; the international tug of war over the fate of a Cuban boy named Elian Gonzalez; the crippling Republican infighting over the tenure of party Chairman Michael S. Steele; the coaching merry-go-round that has undermined the once-mighty Redskins; the long-running policy debates on immigration, education, religious freedom and the decline of the family; and the recent Fast and Furious gun-running scandal.

Born in an age when typeset tastes in newspapers ran the gamut from dark gray to light gray, The Times pioneered — along with USA Today, another mold-breaking daily newspaper with national ambitions that debuted five months after The Times hit the newsstands — the use of color and eye-catching graphics to enliven coverage and enhance the reader's understanding. The www.washingtontimes.com website launched on May 17, 1996.

The Times' oft-honored photo section has produced indelible images on tight deadlines of national tragedies, entertainment legends and sports heroes, as well as iconic, prize-winning photos of figures as diverse as Alan Greenspan, John Riggins, Marion Barry and a Catholic altar boy in Mount Olive, N.C.
The paper enters its fourth decade facing challenges and opportunities. The struggles facing all print journalism products continue, while media outlets struggle to find the most effective and profitable way to exploit — or survive — the digital revolution.

The Times cut its paper edition back from seven days a week to five two years ago, while beefing up its Internet coverage to offer continuous, up-to-the-minute news coverage. The recent death of Rev. Moon marks both a milestone and a challenge for the paper's long-term direction, although the company's new top executives insist that The Times and its various media products will continue to be given support to maintain and extend their coverage reach.

"Today, The Times is much more than a daily newspaper for the metro area," Mr. Kelley said. "The vast majority of digital consumers of Times content are far outside of Washington. That means opportunities to reach national and global audiences who want news and analysis from the nation's capital from a news organization dedicated to meeting their needs."

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