This week on The Learning Curve, cohosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson spoke with Donald Graham, Chairman of Graham Holdings Company, previously The Washington Post Company. Mr.Graham discussed his family’s ownership of The Washington Post and their efforts to bring the paper to prominence and financial stability. He talked about his mother, Katharine Graham’s, history-changing achievements, including the Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal. Graham reflects upon how his military and police career informed his work as a journalist, his views on social media, and his work in higher education reform and philanthropy on behalf of immigrant youth.
Stories of the Week: Gerard discussed an article by Patrick J. Wolf at lawliberty.org on how design and implementation of school choice programs makes a critical difference in their effectiveness. Cara discussed an editorial in the Boston Globe about the emergency of a coalition that aims to improve rather than end the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing program that is an integral part of education reform.
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Read a transcript here:
The Learning Curve, May 31, 2023
[00:00:00] Cara: Learning Curve listeners, happy belated Memorial Day. I hope we all had some time to reflect on what the holiday means and, think about why we have the liberties that we have in our country today. I know I sure did also enjoyed a sunny long weekend. Doing a little bit of soccer watching and then a whole lot of nothing, which is exactly how it should be.
A little bit of barbecue eating, although not the meat part. I don’t know, maybe I’ve been spending too much time with the fantastic Gerard Robinson, who is definitely a very healthy eater and who has been out and about doing what he does. I’m happy to have you back, my friend, Gerard. How have you been?
[00:00:46] GR: My friend, I am well, my voice is a little groggy from all the talking and the long layovers and the flights. As you are alluding to listeners, I had an opportunity to travel with a group of researchers, prison wardens formerly incarcerated people and others to travel, to visit prisons in Hamburg, Germany, and in Oslo, Norway.
And for those of you who followed our show, we’ve had a few guests on to talk about the importance of criminal justice reform and only in one particular instance do be really focused on prison. So, we went there and spent a little bit more than a week and saw a lot of great things, saw some challenging things because again, we’re talking about prison. There’s no panacea of prison, but there are different practices. So returned home late. I wasn’t a States during uh, Memorial Day proper, I sent a personal text to several people who I know are veterans or are in the military, and so wanted to thank them for their commitment. And I saw a really, really good piece on MS-NBC, an African American general in the Air Force whose family goes all the way back to World War I and he talked about his family commitment to service to the US through the [00:02:00] military, he and the Air Force, his other family in the army. But it’s just something to remember, not only that, it’s a family affair. But as you go to, we have liberties and responsibilities and obligations that are unheard of in most countries and haven’t spent time in two countries that are part of our alliance. Good to be able to have the freedoms that we do.
[00:02:20] Cara: Yeah. Liberties and responsibilities and obligations. I like how you put that because I think too often we forget the first two. You know, you sort of one comes with those Gerard, I’m so curious. What was the most either interesting, confusing, like what did you observe in your travels looking at prisons in these two countries that really made you think?
[00:02:47] GR: For Hamburg, Germany, I would say it’s the philosophy of language. And here’s what I mean. When you look at their constitution, you’ll find the word human dignity or the phrase when you look at statutes and rules and regulations related to how you have to work with people who are incarcerated. You hear words along that line. And a lot of that was enshrined in their legal lang legal language. And naturally so coming out of World War II and coming out of the Third Reich and the role that prisons played, definitely extermination camps. For Jews, both in Germany, those from Russian and other places.
[00:03:28] GR: And you also had intern prison camps, which was slave labor camps. And so coming out of all of that, you gotta figure out how do we work with people in prison? So that’s one, history. So, I would say the philosophy of language in Oslo, I would say the professionalization of correctional officers and we had a chance to visit a college where if you want to become a correctional officer in any Oslo prison, you have to go to school for two years and then graduate. In the United States, we had one warden who said, not only is a warden, but someone who went to the program in the United States, at six weeks and you become a correctional officer. And so, they’re saying that one way to make it a more attractive job for people to do it is to professionalize it. And so, you and I both as policy and research geeks—
[00:04:16] Cara: Sounds familiar. I was going to say, sounds like another profession I think a lot about. Familiar to us.
[00:04:20] GR: Yeah. You know this well, better than I do, the whole push for professionalizing the teaching profession. So, one of my notes that I made to the group as we were. Talking about what, we see. That was interesting. I said, while we’re looking at Norway and looking at Germany, I said, let’s also look at the home team. There was a push in the twenties and the sixties, even now, to professionalize the teaching profession for all the reasons you say for corrections. So, I’m saying, here’s an opportunity for corrections to look at education for some lessons. So, those are just two, and you’ll see some more on the side to write three op-eds about my trip.
[00:04:57] Cara: Oh, well, I’m eager to learn that. And Hamburg, Germany, I’ve actually spent time there because I have a stepbrother who spent time in Germany when he was in the military. Traveled to Hamburg and visiting him.
Beautiful place. Really have fond memories. But Oslo’s definitely a place that’s on the bucket list. A place that I, you know, I lived in Europe for a couple years in my twenties traveling and teaching English and doing lots of different things. Mostly I was in Eastern Europe at the time. I just ran out of money before I could get to that part of the continent. So, um, I’m a little bit older and wiser and have a study your job. Maybe we’ll get there someday. But thank you for sharing, Gerard. I’m sure it was an amazing trip, and I can’t wait to read and hear more.
[00:05:43] Cara: But you didn’t miss much here at home. It’s business as usual, I think, especially when it comes to media and our stories of the week. I’ve got a story today, Gerard on my new favorite pet peeve. I mean, I feel like I have lots of them, but my new favorite policy pet peeve has to do with the utter nonsense that we’re seeing around accountability. And I know that that’s inflammatory language, but I’m getting bummed Gerard. And this one though, this is a story that gives me hope. I’ll say that. this is a story from our very own Boston Globe and it’s an editorial obviously written by the editorial board entitled A Pro-MCAS Voice Emerges.
[00:06:25] Cara: Now just a little tutorial for any non-Massachusetts listeners or for Massachusetts listeners whose children don’t have to take the MCAS, which I have heard my daughter’s friends, my daughter doesn’t take it, but I’ve heard her friends refer to it as the Massachusetts Child Abuse System. And I wonder where that language comes from because it’s certainly not what it is.
[00:06:44] Cara: But the MCAS is the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. It came to us with our landmark education. Reform Act in the 1990s. And it was part of an overall deal that came out of a court case, which found that the state was not providing every child with the education they constitutionally due. And, you know, MCAS was one of those things where the state sort of said, as many states have in these legal. cases that if we’re gonna put more money into education, if we’re going to make sure that schools get sort of this common minimum level of funding and that the state kicks in for it, instead of counting on localities to raise all the money, then we want to monitor how schools are doing, whether or not this money is actually being spent on the right things in a way that produces outcomes for kids.
So, cut to today, many, many years later. Post-No Child Left Behind, post-all of the things that we’ve talked about on the show many, many times. And you know, you and I talked about it a lot during the pandemic, that we were worried that the necessary at the time pause on testing would really provide an inroads for people who will sort of, at any cost do away with air quotes “the test.” So, just as a reminder, not for you Gerard, but for folks listening, is that the purpose of these accountability systems? I always like to think of it as sort of a tripod, right? Like you’ve got standards that establish what kids should be able to do before graduation. You’ve got a check for whether or not kids are meeting standards. That is the test. And then, arguably you should have some sort of accountability to go with it. I think I would argue for what, what Massachusetts, I think does, is supportive accountability, meaning, hey, school district, you’re not serving all kids, you’re not serving subsets of kids, you’re leaving certain kids out.
We’re gonna come in and take corrective action. And most of the time that results in corrective action, that that is more support from the state. Certainly, we’re seeing that in a place like Boston where I will just keep reminding folks that pre-pandemic. Only 33% of fourth graders were proficient on NAEP exams. Let’s just keep saying that because we wouldn’t be able to tell, we wouldn’t be able to say, we wouldn’t know how few kids are able to read on grade level, not just in our country, but in this Commonwealth, which is one of the highest performing, if not the highest performing in this nation. We wouldn’t know how many kids can’t read on grade level.
We wouldn’t know how many kids aren’t basically numerate. And that is because the, we have data, right? And so, these data are important in so many ways, especially I’m shining a light and the inequities that happen with certain pockets of kids, schools should not be able to fail anyone. So here we have in Massachusetts, as in many other states, Gerard, a push to get rid of the test Now, as we’ve said on this show before, there’s good reason that people wanna get rid of the test. I think that the system needs to be revamped. The system needs to be rethought in a way where assessments are perhaps delivered in a different way, where assessments are perhaps more responsive to the ability of teachers to diagnose gaps in student learning.
[00:09:56] Cara: But that’s not what these calls to abolish the test are about the calls to abolish the test are, we don’t like the test, our kids aren’t passing the test. It makes people feel badly about themselves. It makes the schools feel badly about themselves, so let’s just get rid of it. It’s like the pendulum swinging back to the late 1980s when we had very little information, but we were finding out after graduation.
The kids weren’t able to do things like, I don’t know, write a basic business letter, and they were therefore not able to get jobs, weren’t able to function in the economy. So, we do have some promise emerging here in the Bay State, which if you would’ve asked me a couple weeks ago, I would’ve said that I wouldn’t be surprised if MCAS were abolished.
[00:10:35] Cara: But there is a coalition of folks, and I could read all of their names, but they are some good folks that have. The experience to be able to make this argument. One of them is a former state representative mayor Fall River at Lambert, who now leads the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.
[00:10:53] Cara: We’ve got our friend Carrie Rodriguez from the National Parents Union, good friend Paul Toner, who I’m not sure if we’ve had on the show, but we should. He is a former head of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and an all-around incredibly reasonable and smart person who is sort of splitting with you, guessed at the unions on this issue and saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. We should all be about knowing what kids can do in order to graduate from high school. So, this article really shines a light on why people want to get rid of MCAS, all of the reasons I’ve just said. And it shines a light on this coalition that’s coming together to say, no, no, no. We can maybe change it. We can sort of rethink things. There might need to be a new day in testing and accountability, but it serves its purpose. We need to have accountability in place, which means we need to have a test in place to ensure that schools are doing their job. This isn’t about punishing or abusing children. This isn’t about making people feel bad.
[00:11:48] Cara: This is about ensuring that schools are doing what they’re constitutionally bound to do for kids. So as you can tell, Gerard, I’m a little bit like worked up over this issue. I wish that we had some new and innovative thinking around testing and I also would like to encourage this coalition. If you are listening, can we talk about maybe being out there? Requiring a graduation requirement as well. Because right now kids need to take MCAS to graduate. They need to show that they can do, you know, a have like eighth grade basic skills on a 10th grade test to graduate from high school. And we wanna make sure not only that MCAS, the tests, is maintained, but that graduation requirement stays in place.
So, I’m waiting with bated breath. I am hoping that these really, I think, reasonable voices with data, they’re bringing data to this argument can prevail. And Massachusetts isn’t a loan. Gerard, you as a commissioner have worked on these issues for years. What do you think?
[00:12:42] GR: Let’s look at Massachusetts in an international comparative, since I have been doused recently in the whole idea of the importance go intellectual comparison. So, let’s look at Massachusetts and PISA scores 2012. So, let’s just go [00:13:00] back before the pandemic. Do you know that your state. Took the PISA in 2012, and not only did it compete as a state, Massachusetts decided to compete as a nation among 70 plus actual nations in, and we did pretty well, and you did pretty well. In fact, in 2012, in reading ranked fourth in science. You ranked sixth in mathematics. You ranked ninth as a country or as a nation, you are one of the top 10 in the world of, of countries that take PISA. That was in 2012, where you fast forward to 2000 18, and we actually look at countries.
[00:13:44] GR: I mentioned Germany. Guess what? Germany surpassed in the United States in terms of PISA. I mentioned Norway. Norway did the same thing. The first thing we are going to hear are those countries in fact are pretty culturally monotone, that [00:14:00] they’re just mm-hmm. Germans and that they’re just Norwegians and they don’t have a lot of diversity.
[00:14:04] GR: Well, first of of all, not true. That’s not true. Absolutely not true. Germany is more diverse in 2023 than it was 33 years ago when I first traveled to Germany as a student at Howard University. It is very diverse, ethnically, racially, economically, but they also have a much stronger emphasis on the importance of schooling and trade and work and higher ed.
[00:14:29] GR: And higher ed also happens to also be free. So I just wanna put in perspective that when we’re comparing ourselves to other countries MCAS makes sense because it gives your state an opportunity to do so as a nation. Florida, other states have done the same thing. So no, let’s not get rid of it. Because we need it for international comparisons.
[00:14:48] GR: There are two coalitions here. A coalition of commitment and a coalition of convenience. A coalition of commitment are the ones who are saying, we need to keep this and make it better. Are there some challenges with MCAS? Absolutely. There are people who supported who said, we’ve gotta make tweaks here and there to keep up with the times.
[00:15:08] GR: But a coalition to commitment means that we’re gonna be committed to evaluation. Commitment to accountability and a commitment to the taxpayers and the families. Too many students from Boston in particular are going into school in need of remediation for a system that we say is one of the best in the country.
[00:15:25] GR: So I’m all in the coalition of commitment camp, not so much for the coalition of convenience. It is easy and convenient to take the MCAS and abuse it and use language as better suited for children who are truly abused than to bring that into the K-12 system. I’m glad that people have that kind of critique, but guess what? That’s a coalition of convenience and it’s often the coalition of convenience that will sit around and pat each other on the back, tell themselves they’re great and smarter than the rest of us, and at the end of the day, their children won’t be sitting next to the children who found themselves in economically or academically challenged schools, but we didn’t find reasons to explain how they ended up in prison. It’s not because we didn’t hold them accountable, so, yeah, that’s what I gotta say.
[00:16:13] Cara: I like it. What are you thinking about?
[00:16:14] GR: Well, I’m thinking about school choice, particularly ESAs. And so my article is from Patrick Wolf, who’s been a guest on our show. He is a professor at the University of Arkansas department for School Reform. His articles titled Realizing School Choice and is published in Law and Liberty. Part of his article is a response to a. Previous article written by Rick Hess, who’s the Director of Education Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
They also know each other having both graduated from Harvard and studied under Paul Peterson. But Patrick, and this article is worth reading for. Three good reasons. Number one, if you’re not familiar with the evolution of the parental choice movement, it’s worth reading because he not only he walks you through the chronology of it, but he also walks you through the different types of programs starting with initial vouchers in the Milwaukee to ESAs that we have, you know, in nine states and, and other states are going to join.
So that’s number one. Number two, he walks through some of the research. He and others have put together be very clear. I don’t think there’s anybody in the United States who better understands parental choice programs and action from what I would call an apples-to-apples standard than Patrick. Yep. He is my go-to person when I need to update my research cuz people think that Pat is doing this solely because he’s being paid funded by the Waltons. He’s only doing it to prove that it works. And in fact, he’s identified programs that show not only have some choice programs, Louisiana’s example, v
[00:17:53] Cara: Louisiana. We’re looking at you.
[00:17:53] GR: I was gonna say yeah, we’re looking at you. You’re not doing as well as other states or some places. Where it’s not very different than the public school. So he’s not a higher-ed hack. He’s actually an intellectual. And recently he was identified as one of the best scholars in the world in terms of the number of evaluations they’ve done with a data set of a thousand people or more. So I would say go there and take a look at what he had to say for research. But the thing that really got me was his conversation about Arizona. And West Virginia ESA programs and using them for the conversation about equity and about equality. Now, I can tell you with this being, you know, I guess 32nd year in the school reform movement for the bulk of that movement, the conversation was about uiversal choice and social justice. The universal choice, or we would call the Milton Friedman School, was to say that you make universal choice universal and open to everyone. If everyone’s involved, everyone will benefit. And we’ll see the program move forward. [00:19:00] That was pushed I mean, that idea was really goes back to 1955 in a book chapter that Milton Friedman authored, but also in some of his work and Time to Choose.
[00:19:11] GR: And then you have the social justice camp, which is Dr. Howard Fuller. who said they should be means tested, they should be. For families who make initially Milwaukee 150, 85% or below of poverty, that number in many states is going to 303 50. But there’s been a debate between that. Well, now we’re at a point where we’ve evolved from universal to means tested to now talk about.
[00:19:33] GR: Equity and equality. So in the ESA program, Pat says, if you look at the Arizona model it lowers its funds onto an education debit card, and many of us have a debit card. So, we know what it looks like, it feels like. He says, once you do this, parents can use it to purchase school tuition or other educational product services.
[00:19:51] GR: There was a time with the voucher program in a Milwaukee, for example, where you could only use the money for tuition. And with the maturation of the parental choice movement, guess what? We realize there’s more school costs than just tuition. So, for Pat Wolf, the Arizona model is an upload. And then he says, well, let’s take a look at West Virginia. The West Virginia model is set up on a webpage. It consists of a virtual marketplace where parents can select from pre-approved vendors, something that I’m a big supporter of. Having worked with DOE and much like insurance marketplace, programs that were set up in the wake of the Affordable Care Act people can take a look.
[00:20:30] GR: So here’s what, he said. Pat said that the Arizona debit card was a benefit of convenience as it allowed parents to make purchases. While the government could take a look and audit it after the purchases, he then said the West Virginia model is much more of an educational choice model that benefits, but it supports accountability.
[00:20:50] GR: So, here’s the bottom line. Pat says, target programs are more efficient and consistent with equity concerns. These are the ones that are means tested. Universal programs are more politically resilient and satisfy equality goals. So, for those of you who are looking for language and how it’s matured over time, I say check out Pat’s article.
[00:21:12] Cara: Oh my gosh. I’m gonna go read it because I’ve been struggling with this in my own brain. I think I’ve been struggling with it on the show too, and I’m gonna read it and then I’m gonna call Pat for a discussion. So, absolutely baby, we can all have it. Oh well Gerard, I think I would love for us to go on, but you know what, we actually have our guest waiting and he is Donald Graham, the chairman of Graham Holdings Company, previously the Washington Post Company. So we, dear listeners, are gonna be back right after this.
[00:22:12] Cara: Learning Curve listeners, as promised, we are back with Donald Graham. He is the chairman at Graham Holdings Company previously, the Washington Post Company. Graham is a trustee of the Federal City Council and the Philip L. Graham Fund, which was established in 1963 in memory of his father as well as a director of KIPP-DC. He is a former director of Facebook, the Summit Fund of Washington, and the College Success Foundation DC. He also served as a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board and as the president of the District of Columbia College Access Program after graduating from Harvard in 1966. Graham served in Vietnam and became a patrolman with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department. Joining the Washington Post in 1971, Graham held multiple newspaper and business positions, such as publisher, executive, vice president, general manager, and reporter. He’s also the cofounder of the Dream Us, which helps immigrant youth receive a college education. I should have said, A cofounder because you are one of at least two, I would assume. And so, Donald Graham, welcome to the show.
[00:23:18] Donald Graham: Thanks so much, Cara. I’m thrilled to be here.
[00:23:22] Cara: Yeah, we’re so happy to have you. You were joking with us earlier that how could you be on a show with two people who, who know so much about education and I just read your bio and I’m thinking that the jokes on us because you clearly have a lot of experience, a diverse experience in education. I wanna get into your background a little bit like way into your background to talk about what led you to all of these really interesting positions. And it sounds like you can trace a lot back to your family. So, Your grandfather, Eugene Meyer, brought the Washington Post up from bankruptcy in 1933.
Of course, as we know it today, it’s certainly one of the world’s [00:24:00] most influential newspapers. And your mother, Katherine Graham, was the 20th century’s first female publisher of a major American newspaper and the first woman elected to the board of the Associated Press. I mean, my goodness. Can you tell us a little bit about your family background and how that’s informed what you’ve chosen to do with your life?
[00:24:23] Donald: Sure, I’d love it. a person can’t be luckier than I am. I was born in 1945, and as you said, my grandfather, Eugene Meyer, had bought the Washington Post in 1933. A man who worked for him at the time told me that he believed that if he made the paper better, it was, the fourth paper in a five- paper town. It was losing about a million dollars a year in 1930. But Mr. Meyer believed that if he made the paper better, that would attract more readers and he could sell more advertising and he could make the paper break even in about three years. he was way off. His, his principles were right. His timing was way off. He lost money, which he had to pay out of his pocket. He didn’t own another business for 21 years, and the paper didn’t make money until 1954, but he stuck with it and he tried to run a principled, decent independent newspaper. He was succeeded by my father, Phil Graham, who’s also a fascinating story.
But sadly, my dad took his own life in 1963. And as you said, at that time, my mother, Kay Graham, had to decide. She’d seen her father and her husband struggled to make this paper successful and struggle. It wasn’t, her father was still alive. And she had to decide would she sell the paper or would she somehow try to run it, although no woman was running a company of that size.
[00:25:57] Donald: So much so that eight years later when we went public, [00:26:00] 1971, fortune Magazine published their Fortune 500 issue, and they did. Not just 500 but a thousand companies, and she was the only woman out of a thousand chief executive offices, 999 guys in her. So, she was really a pioneer and an amazing one. I’m very proud to have worked with her.
[00:26:22] Cara: That’s amazing. I wanna go back for a second. So, you noted that, you know, when your grandfather, he worked so hard make the Washington Post profitable break even, even. And you said that he ran a really principled newspaper. Could you talk a little bit about the seven principles that he outlined and how they were sort of a roadmap for you and for other members of your family, including your mother?
[00:26:46] Donald: Well, it’s, quite remarkable. In 1933 when he became the owner of the paper, he wrote in the paper that his principles would be seven things that are written in very old [00:27:00] fashioned language but are still quite admirable today. Starting The first news mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained wise.
[00:27:11] Donald: Statement, including the understanding that you don’t always know what’s true today. So, you come back tomorrow and then he, he went on the newspaper, will tell all the truth as far as it can learn it concerning the affairs of America and the world. And then wonderfully, this is what I mean about old-fashioned language, but it’s a good way to think of it. The paper shall observe the decencies that are obligatory upon a private gentleman. What in print shall be fit Reading for the youngest. As for the old, the newspaper’s duty, this is a great one, is to its readers and the public at large and not to the private interests of its owners. And boy did my mother follow through on that one.
[00:27:51] Donald: And in the pursuit of truth, the newspapers will be prepared to make sacrifice of its material fortunes if such course be necessary for the public good. [00:28:00] Newspapers shall not be the ally of any special interest, but shall be free, fair, and wholesome in its outlook on public affairs and public men, not phraseology you’d use in 2023, but awfully good 90 years ago.
[00:28:15] Cara: Yeah. Wow. It’s really amazing when you consider today’s media environment, but I think it’s, safe to say that the Post is still one of the world’s most influential entrusted newspapers, perhaps because of its long history with your family. And I’d like to turn to you because in reading your bio I’ve talked with few people in my life that have such a varied biography.
[00:28:38] Cara: So, you know, from serving in Vietnam of course, but then obviously being a patrolman with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department to all of these varied positions at the Washington Post. Starting with reporter, talk to us a little bit about your decision making in terms of the jobs that you’ve held and, and how each of them has informed the next step in your life.
[00:29:01] Donald: Well, I was I went to high school in DC at college, at Harvard, and in 1966 I graduated and got drafted. I was in Vietnam, but I want to quickly say I was not an infantryman. I was not a frontline soldier. I was a photographer and reporter for the Army’s newspapers, for the My Division’s newspaper and off in a corner of Vietnam, and I was there from July ’67 to July ’68 with the First Cavalry Division. Came back in July and the riot in Washington, a three-day riot with massive damage to the city. Several deaths, many injuries, many arrests had taken place in April, and that riot told me I didn’t really know one thing about the city where the Washington Post was published. I told my mother, who didn’t entirely agree that I thought I would, serve her better at the newspaper if I learned something about the city first.
[00:30:01] Donald: And Cara, you’ll love this. The first thing I thought about was being a teacher in a public school in DC and I believe, I was told in 1968 that I would’ve had to have an education degree to be a teacher, and I didn’t have such a degree, but the police were literally desperate for people. I told them that if I came on the force, I would only be able to serve about a year and a half at that, you know, by agreement with my mother then I’d come to work at the paper, they said quote, that would be above average. And it was a tough time to recruit because of the draft and because Washington wasn’t paying very much and it, 1969 when I became a cop in DC was so different to today.
[00:30:47] Donald: For one example, I served 18 months. I made quite a few arrests, traffic stops, whatnot. I never arrested anybody with an automatic weapon. We did not carry automatic weapons. We carried .36 shooters, basically .38 specials, and I don’t believe anybody in my precinct arrested anybody with an automatic weapon, and now in Washington as in the rest of the country. Many, many young teenagers have automatic weapons and makes policing infinitely more dangerous. I admire people doing that job so much, but I learned many valuable lessons. The most valuable of which was that I wasn’t as far as I thought I was, because so many cops were better at what they were doing than I was, and they had more experience in and had been through every kind of call 50 times and do what they were doing and, were good enough to teach me.
[00:31:41] Cara: Can you tell us a little bit about how after serving in that role, you went on to become first reporter and then a leader at the post?
[00:31:50] Donald: Well, I mean, I became a leader because I was a member of the family that owned the paper. That was no mystery. You named it though. Thank you. Yeah, I mean, I, I plainly advanced due to merit and hard work, but the fact that my name was Graham had something to do with it, and I, I was under no illusions about how I became a, became a leader at that. But I was in a family company, and family companies are very, very interesting so being a reporter, obviously having served in the Army, having served in Vietnam was very useful. I mean, this was the time of any war demonstration, some of which I was covering, certainly in, in any city.
[00:32:29] Donald: The courts and the, I didn’t cover the, my former colleagues, I didn’t write about. Police I had known. but crime was a very big story. I did some of that and then, you know because I’d known the people I knew, it made it easier for me to understand the other, the people who put the paper out other than the reporters. Yeah. And the Post, the Post at that time, newspapers at that time were classified by the United States government as manufacturing businesses and we had printers, press operators and the other production workers and salespeople, circulation delivery people without whom the paper wasn’t gonna get out. It was a completely interdependent, those were all just as important as the reporters to the daily operation of the paper. So, you had to. Understand what kind of people those were and what, motivated them.
[00:33:21] Cara: I imagine it made you an effective leader to have lived so many positions in the company, but I, I have talked enough and I wanna pass it over to my colleague Gerard, who I know has a lot of questions for you.
[00:33:33] GR: Yeah. I’ve enjoyed the conversation so much for a couple of reasons. Number one, I’m a graduate of Howard University and. Worked for DC public school systems some years ago. So I’m very familiar with DC and of course, the role of the Washington Post has played in shaping both of those institutions. And secondly, prior to this, I had no idea that you were a police officer as well as journalists. So this will be a good lead in to my question. So you’ve been involved in the leadership of that paper and really media leadership for 50 years. Can you give us your thoughts? On present day media in America and where you see the industry heading in the next decade?
[00:34:12] Donald: Well, you’re talking to somebody who hasn’t worked in the media in 10 years. We as you know, sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos in 2013. But I still subscribe to the views about the media that most people might age do. You’ve got a great example in Boston and Marty Baron, the. Boston VO editor, who was the subject of that wonderful movie Spotlight, where, you know, they started out covering a story and they didn’t know what they had. They didn’t know whether there was anything to these complaints of clerical abuse of young people, but they worked at it. They talked to people, they talked again, they went back to different people. They got everybody’s point of view. And finally it turned out there was a very important story, but it wasn’t because they were out to get anybody.
[00:35:00] Donald: It was because they were out to get the truth. And so my point of view is you start reporting the story. You don’t know what the story is, and you listen very carefully to what everybody is saying. And you have preconceptions about who’s right and who’s wrong, you set those preconceptions to the side and you just let yourself be guided by the facts and tell the reader as best you can, what everybody thinks on all sides.
[00:35:30] Donald: Now that gets harder in a time when you’re rushing to get into print and when tweets and summaries and very quick publication. Is important and I stand back from that, you know, that I don’t propose to tell anybody how they ought to behave under that, but I am of this very old school view that the reader deserves a clear look at the facts.
[00:35:56] GR: Absolutely. So as we’re talking about print journalism, [00:36:00] and it’s going through major restructuring now, I mean, yeah. You know, you think about 1984 the post diversified and purchased the for-profit education and training company Kaplan which proved to be a very successful move. Would you talk to us about changes to the business model that are needed in order for NA newspapers to be financially sustainable and vibrant in our current time?
[00:36:22] Donald: The honest answer to that is it’s super hard. you used the example of us buying Kaplan. What we were really doing was investing in a, in a good business that wasn’t newspapers. And we also invested in television stations. Now our company owns a lot of diverse business. We’re in the healthcare business in a very modest way. And The newspapers, there’s 1700 daily newspapers in the United States, and a whole lot of them are struggling to break, even, struggling to make money. And they do not have the staffs they used to. They don’t have the scale they used to, and it’s tough for their cities. Boston has a newspaper in the Boston Globe. I mean, I know this broadcast originates in Boston that is really trying hard and that also has the fabulous good luck to be the home newspaper of the Boston Red Sox and all the other wonderful, the Celtics and Bruins and Patriots that a ton of people follow around the country.
[00:37:21] GR: You know, one of the things you mentioned uh, we were offline talking about, you know, your work in the media industry. As Cara said, you definitely have a role to play and have played a great role in education. I’d love for our listeners to know more about the co-founding of the dream dot us What was the aha moment to decide to do this? What does it do and why now?
[00:37:45] Donald: Well, thank you so much. I’d love to talk about it and to take your questions about it. So I spent, I’m from DC, I’ve spent, I’m 78 years old and I’ve lived all my life except for the college and the army in Washington DC and we’re like what you most people know. That Washington has 30 or 40% well off people, a lot of lawyers, a lot of people in the government, and then a lot of very poor people who need.
[00:38:13] Donald: And you, you mentioned, you were, you yourself were in the DC public school system and I’m sure it was Similar. The DC public school system has worked hard and I ran a a scholarship program for all the public school and charter school students in Washington, DC and DC now is almost 50% charter in the number of students.
[00:38:33] Donald: And we tried to make it easier for them to go to college. They’ve been out a lot because we’re not a state, so we’re outta state everywhere. Just think about that. So you’re paying out a state tuition wherever you go. And the scholarship program did have a, resulted a big increase in college attendance and college graduation among DC students, starting from a very low point and I was very happy with that.
[00:38:56] Donald: I passed the leadership to another business person and then I started to look into the one group I knew of that really couldn’t go to college and didn’t go to college at all. And that was this group called the Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants, and I met so many who had similar stories. They’d come to the US as very, very small children. Our scholarship program’s been going for almost 10 years now, and the average student going through our program came here as a four year old. So they not only went to high school in the United States, they went to kindergarten in the United States, and yet when they graduate from high school, their classmates, if they’re poor, if they’re low income students, they get a Pell Grant no matter what their income, they can borrow any amount of money that they want to make it possible for them to complete college. The undocumented students, the Dreamers, the ones I was meeting, didn’t get any of that. No [00:40:00] grants and no loans. Now, how is a poor kid gonna go to college without any of that?
[00:40:06] Donald: And as I met more and more of these kids, I thought to myself, I’m a very old-fashioned kind of American. I love this country and I don’t like to think that we’re treating children this way. I don’t like to think that we are watching fabulous young people graduate from our high schools, president of the class, captain of the team. And then slamming the door in their face. Sorry, you can’t go to college and I bet so many of these kids whose own college counselor said to them, you can’t go to college. Just understand that. So we started out thinking naively in 2013 that Congress would zoom, take care of this problem cuz it was pretty obvious that you know, that these students were highly deserving and that the country would benefit from ’em.
[00:40:57] Donald: But as you know, immigration’s just become this crazy issue where everybody on both sides would agree on one thing, which is American policy on immigration is insane. It makes no sense from anyone’s point of view and it sure doesn’t from the Dreamers’ point of view and from my point of view. So, we are now sending about a thousand of these students a year as freshmen to very low cost colleges like the City University of New York.
[00:41:25] Donald: Still, thank God, $7,250 a year. Tuition and fees just a miracle. But there are colleges like that around the country and that’s what we look for. So, we’re not, sending them to expensive colleges. We’re almost entirely sending them to schools that are down in enrollment. Will take any qualified student who applies.
[00:41:48] Donald: We’re not knocking American citizens outta college to send. The dream is there, but I gotta tell you, the motivation level among these young people is beyond belief. Pre pandemic. We had an 80% graduation rate, went down all the way to 76% during the pandemic, and I’m sure it’ll bounce right back up. They want to be teachers, they want to be above all, they want to be nurses, more nursing and healthcare majors than anything else. And business people and companies and hospitals and schools need them. But we, don’t wanna make it possible for them to get.
[00:42:24] GR: That’s a great story. And one thing that comes to mind, given your breadth of experience and leadership one day, one of the dreamers or one of the students that you’ve helped in DC public schools through scholarships, through your philanthropy, what would you tell them today?
[00:42:45] Donald: Some of them are in their twenties, about what it takes to be a leader moving forward. Well, that’s a subject that people teach about in graduate school, and I don’t have the what does leadership take in a nutshell. But the first thing it takes [00:43:00] is you’ve gotta wanna work hard. And in any organization, and you yourself have headed up some big ones and when you look for future leaders, you look for, you know, you look for people who are contributing. You work for people, you look for people who are working hard and drive and, really understand what’s great about the organization’s goals and are contributing to. That’s what we all look for. That’s what we look for at the Washington Post. And these dreamers just have an exceptional amount of that. they have motivate, they have, if you talk to edu, the high school educators to teachers, principals, counselors, they’ll tell you the motivation of this group is beyond belief.
[00:43:47] GR: Great to hear. Thank you so much.
[00:43:49] Cara: Yes, thank you so very much, Mr. Graham. It has been a pleasure speaking with you today and learning about your very interesting background and the work that you are doing today, which is just is, I would agree with you, incredibly important. We need teachers, we need nurses, and we need people that can go on to do. Anything they want to do unbound in this new, world we’re living in.
[00:44:14] Donald: Yeah, thanks to you both and I hope this country ultimately but quickly gives these young people that opportunity. Thank you for to be on the podcast.
[00:44:25] Cara: Yeah, it’s wonderful to talk to you and we will make sure that our listeners have the link to learn more about this issue and your organization. So until then, take very good care and thanks again for spending time with us today.
[00:44:38] Donald: Thank you both so much.[00:45:00]
[00:45:23] GR: So our tweet is, Is from a gentleman we’ve had on the show before. It’s about cell phone bands empower the teachers and schools to decide, don’t do a blanket band at the state level. This isn’t a good idea for those educators who use the phones educational purposes for students. States may use cell phone bands in different ways, so Michael Horn, that’s his tweet of the week we’ve had him on before and might keep us thinking.
[00:45:48] Cara: It’s Mark I, I don’t like a blanket ban either. Just saying, all right, Gerard, next week we will be back together. Unless you’re flying off to another exciting place that I don’t know about yet. We are gonna be speaking with Mark Raboy He is a writer and emeritus professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. I love Canada. He’s also the author of Marconi, the Man Who Networked the World, Gerard. Until then, get some sleep. Okay? Get on the right time zone!
[00:46:17] GR: So, from the German perspective, aufweidersehen! And for Norway, for those of you who have a drink, skol! Skol, OK!
[00:46:27] Cara: cheers.