Inside Washingtonian's Power 150

150.jpgEver wonder what goes into Washingtonian's Power 150: People Who Make Things Happen? Is it total bullshit, or just partly? We asked a former Washingtonian editor for an inside peek. And TIME 100 it is not. After the jump, an insider tells all.

"Like all lists at the Washingtonian, many of the choices are obvious and this kind of list is mostly an inside job. The idea usually, like with the Washingtonians of the Year, is mostly the choice of the editor Jack Limpert. Most people inside the magazine believe that lists are much too large, but Jack is determined to have geographic, social, cultural, racial and religious diversity. This list is taken very seriously and you see it included in obituaries. Like Pulitizer Prize winners, you will know what the first three words of your obit will be.

"It goes beyond this. Anyone you talk to that knows the restaurant industry will argue that it is absurd to list 100 best restaurants for the Washington area, with an emphasis on finding more of them in Northern Virginia (where top dining restaurants are rare). But most of the readership is out in Virginia and that targets advertisers. The long-time food critic Robert Shoffner had his first battles with Jack over that issue -- 50 best was a stretch, 100 out of the question. The new food writer walks the line, even though it is still argued there aren't 50 top restaurants in the Washington area and still few in the suburbs. This list is great, however, for advertising, and the restaurateurs would kill to get on the list and are furious when they are dropped. When the new food critic took over, he dropped several top Washington restaurants so he could have room for more from the suburbs.

"The same is true of the Best Lawyers list. At one time it was a meaningful list. Now, it should almost be the 100 lawyers who did not make the list. Unfortunately the reporters and editors who don't want to do lists this way can't oppose Jack who is determined to fight the steady decline in newsstand sales this way. And getting on this list is so important that lawyers have admitted they would pay thousands to get on the list. The same is true of doctors. That list is more scientific with a mailing to doctors asking who they would call for cancer, heart, dermatology, etc.

"If you look carefully at any of the lists, including the one you asked about, you will notice they are top heavy, too inclusive, stretching to be clever, emphasizing people who photograph well, and a little too geographic, racially, politically correct. I know of people calling the heart association looking for a doctor being told to check the Washingtonian list. That happens with lawyers, etc.

"Almost all these lists mainly help sell advertising and that is why there is so much lobbying to get on the lists. They create buzz like the one you are talking about, which is less about advertising than the others, but is all an inside selection process like the king of them all, The Washingtonians of the Year list. The lists may be diluted, but they make the honorees happy and sell extra copies of magazines. You would be surprised how law firms and doctors buy the lists in bulk to give to potential clients. They do it because it sells.

"You would get even stronger reactions from reporters and editors at the magazine if they weren't afraid to talk. Jack fired his previous food writer Tom Head for letting the Post Reliable Source column know he was embarrassed by the 100 Best Restaurants Column and did not want his byline associated with the list. Head, to Limper's surprise, sued and collected a sizable settlement that he isn't permitted to talk about. I'm told that the magazine's legal fees alone cost some $250,000.

As for the 150 list, you can see that it is padded. If Limpert, who is 75, does this again in a few years, it will then be at least 200 and growing. They grow by including the upcoming list, the hall of fame list and so forth."

Stay tuned for more developments. We've also been told new publisher Cathy Merrill is driving Jack Limpert crazy. Could be funny watching Merrill squirm as since Jack reportedly has no intention of leaving the job anytime soon.

Power 150 [Washingtonian]


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