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Mastheads and Meanings

Mastheads and Meanings
Mastheads and Meanings
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Washington Post slogan triggers debate and discussion

~By Dilip Bobb

The Washington Post, one of the world’s leading newspapers, has slipped in a new slogan under its masthead that is generating a lot of debate and discussion. The slogan, noticed last week on its online edition, says “Democracy Dies in Darkness.’’ Many see it as a comment on the Trump administration and a response to the President’s attacks on sections of the media in America, including the Washington Post. In its 140-year history, the Post has done without a slogan under its masthead and to introduce one now (so far, it appears on the online paper but is expected to appear on the print edition very soon), is a significant move.  The buzz in Washington and other newsrooms is that is a joint statement by Executive Editor Martin Baron and the storied paper’s owner, Jeff Bezoz, co-founder of Amazon. The phrase, seen as much as a mission statement as it is clever branding, was actually first heard during a televised forum last year when Baron was talking to Bezoz and the latter remarked: ‘I think a lot of us believe this; that democracy dies in darkness.”

Bezos took over the Post in 2013 when it was floundering, losing money and readership. Since then, he has, along with Baron, revitalised the paper, totally revamping its online presence and restored much of the paper’s lost glory, which included the famous Watergate expose by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that led to the resignation of a President (Nixon), and attracted over a million new readers.  Baron has a reputation for taking on the powerful and exposing wrongdoing (The movie Spotlight was based on his editorship of the Boston Globe when the paper exposed the all-powerful Catholic Church). He has also publicly been critical of Trump for his views on the media. Bezos, with his deep pockets, and Baron with his legendary reputation, are more than a match for Trump’s challenge to the media, and many see the slogan as a throwing down of the gauntlet.

A spokesman for the newspaper says the slogan, ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness” has been spoken about internally for some time and that it was aimed at conveying what the paper is all about to the thousands of new readers who have signed up over the past year.  Yet, the timing is significant and suggests a larger purpose. Many newspapers have used slogans on the masthead to convey a sense of where the paper stands or as a branding exercise. The New York Times has a slogan that is the envy of many a paper—‘’All the News that’s Fit to Print.’’ Others use hype—the Chicago Tribune calls itself the ‘’World’s Greatest Newspaper,’’ or an attempt to differentiate themselves from their rivals. The Sydney Morning Herald’s slogan is ‘Tomorrow’s Paper.’ In India, the Indian Express has its slogan (Journalism of Courage) based on its late owner’s famous battles with the government of the day while The Tribune, printed from Chandigarh, calls itself “The Voice of the People.’’ The most unusual slogan has to belong to The Statesman, which calls itself “People’s Parliament, Always in Session.”

However diverse the slogans, they are meant to convey to the reader a message of intent and purpose defining the paper and its goal, although in many cases it has become a means to distinguish itself from the competition. Many newspapers forgo the idea of having a slogan but when a paper like the Washington Post opts for one after 140 years, it is certainly a major event and cause for much discussion. Many commentators have pounced on the comment made by Bezos to Baron during the tech forum where he talked about democracy and darkness, and also added this line; “…certain institutions have a very important role in making sure that there is light.” He was talking about his reasons for buying the paper. He later mentioned that he had come up with the phrase after a conversation with Bob Woodward, now Associate Editor with the Post. With the slogan scheduled to make it to the print edition as soon as next week, the paper and its masthead will be once again among the headlines. However powerful a statement it is, no newspaper has come with a better slogan than the one coined by playwright Arthur Miller. “A good newspaper, ‘’ he wrote, “is a nation talking to itself.’’

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