Shepherding a Premier News Organization Into Its New Home, and Relishing the Quotidian
About 11 a.m. on December 14, 2015, I stood in the shiny new eighth-floor newsroom of The Washington Post. The move of some 700 journalists to the first new headquarters in decades was less than three hours old. I looked around the sleek open-concept workspace. As far as the eye could see, people had set books into crisp white cubbies, drawings were pinned up on white tackboards, files were tucked away in blond-wood drawers, and computer screens glowed from futuristic dual-monitor arms.
To a casual observer, it would have looked like any typical day in a 21st century, white-collar workplace. The seeming mundaneness of it all was what made it so miraculous. Standing in the middle of the scene, I wept.
Let me defend myself by saying I am not a crier. But after spending more than 15 months overseeing every aspect of the move of the newsroom of one of the world’s premier news organizations, after countless sleepless nights anticipating catastrophe after catastrophe, the quotidian sight of people working in the space only hours after moving in was a relief beyond words.
That computers and printers and phones worked was one (enormous) measure of success, but what I had yet to realize was how much the space itself would be a success. Moving is hard. Logistically hard, psychologically hard, physically hard. And The Washington Post newsroom was moving from the iconic, and yes, historic, newsroom that had been home to journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and editors Ben Bradlee and Leonard Downie. We were moving from a building that we had owned to a building in which we would be a tenant, and we would have less total square footage in the new space than the old.
Journalists are by nature skeptics; some are even cynics. Most of the time this is a good thing, and it allows us to uncover corruption, right wrongs, and win Pulitzer Prizes. But when it came to the move, it meant that I fielded seemingly endless charges of failing to honor the history of the organization, of overemphasizing digital needs, of demanding to purge historic papers because of less storage space.
But by the end of the first week, countless design elements (some of which I had been deeply skeptical about) were winning raves. People curled up with their laptops in high-backed chairs set in cozy nooks as a way to enjoy a change of scenery from their desks, and contemporary couches arranged at interesting angles invited serendipitous conversations. A variety of small meeting rooms allowed for the kind of surreptitious exchanges with sources that actually do happen. The interior worked so spectacularly that even some grizzled newsroom veterans were struck speechless by the beauty and functionality of the space. As for the history buffs, the reality is that the new space honors the legacy of the Post in a way the old building never even tried to: Glass-enclosed conference rooms are wrapped in historic headlines from the Post archives; key spaces are named after Post journalists, including the Ben Bradlee Story Conference Room and the Michel duCille Photo Studio; a two-story wall chronicles each of the more than 60 Pulitzers that The Washington Post has received.
As we had prepared to leave the old space, in an attempt to soften the blow of the impending departure, many commented that it was the people not the place that made The Washington Post such a spectacular newsroom. As we settled into our new space, we absolutely knew that to be true. But we also realized that having those fantastic people working in a light-filled, highly functional, well-designed space is very sweet indeed.
To read the feature about The Washington Post, click here.