2011 year-end memo from Post publisher Katharine Weymouth
By Katharine Weymouth,
As the year draws to a close, I wanted to take the time to thank you for your hard work. I wanted also to highlight some of our many accomplishments.
I am proud to say that we met almost every goal we set ourselves in the beginning of the year. We continued to invest in, and aggressively build, our digital business; we saw dramatic improvements in our circulation trends against the prior year as we made investments in our print edition, which remains the most popular consumer product in the Washington area; we continued to invest in new and strategic businesses, some of which are already producing material revenues; and we continued to cut costs and to do so in ways that will not hurt us long term. In the short term, we have met our Operating Budget for the year and we have continued to lay the building blocks for the future.
We set ourselves five priorities in the beginning of the year: 1) invest in and tend to the newspaper – which remains a popular and important platform for our readers and a vital source of revenue for us; 2) invest in and build our digital business, which draws more users than ever and is critical to our future; 3) develop new businesses that make strategic sense for us and for our customers; 4) manage and reduce costs to levels our revenues can consistently support; and 5) become more customer centric, by focusing on how we get our stories to people, how we package and promote them, how we can enlighten, engage, amuse and move readers.
I am happy to report that we accomplished each of these goals, and performed well across the Company.
It is our great journalism, and the readers that it draws, that drive our business. We had another year of outstanding journalism. Our extraordinary journalism is what sets The Washington Post apart in an increasingly crowded world of sound bites, rumors and opinion. We have focused our resources on the news that matter most to our readers, whether in our region or around the world. Our coverage of presidential campaign politics and the politics of governing, of the expanding use of unmanned drones, of the Arab Spring and the European fiscal crisis, of corrosive scandal in the D.C. Government and weak oversight of federal housing programs,of local crime and local intrigue, of local sports clubs’ travails and prep school sports successes, of new arts venues and celebrations of old culture -- all of it has been superb.
In addition to our straight journalism, under the leadership of Fred Hiatt, we have one of the best Editorial Departments in the world. Political and business leaders from around the world come to our pages to read our columnists and editorials. Our opinion section sets us apart from the competition in the strength of the talent we publish, the diversity of voices and topics. We shine light on human rights abuses here and abroad and on local and national politics and policies. Our writers are controversial and stirring. And today, in both print and digital, we are using the the opinions of our readers to create conversations on topics of import to our readers.
By bringing understanding and clarity to local, national and international matters that impact the lives of our readers, we remain essential to their lives. And we are doing it by taking our expertise and skill in journalism and translating it to a multimedia world. We are telling stories using the tools available to bring our stories to life in new ways, through pictures, video, text and graphics.
I need not remind anyone that it was a tough year for the economy. After a decent first half of the year, the third quarter turned sour again. Our Advertising team, in print and online, are never deterred by the environment. They use their consultative skills to bring our clients solutions to meet their needs. Overall, we ended the year with a solid performance by the Advertising team. Steve Stup and his team have built one of the best digital sales forces in the world. And Wendy Evans has built one of the best multi-media sales teams in the world. As Wendy leaves us to become a mother to the twins to be born in 2012, she leave a big void.
Let me turn now to the goals we set ourselves. The newspaper remains one of the most popular consumer products in the Washington area. It is vital to our readers and to our advertising customers. While we will adapt as the habits of our consumers change, we will continue to invest in our newspaper as long as their are consumers who demand it. We made changes early in the year to our Sunday paper. Splitting out Arts and Style again, giving Style a new format, and delivering parts of the paper on Sunday, we saw a significant reader response. Overall, our Circulation fell only slightly -- by 5% daily and 4% Sunday, a rate of decline that is about half of what it was last year. Our Circulation Department, led by Gregg Fernandes, is among the best, if not the best, in the country. They are our there delivering papers every single night of the year, no matter what the conditions. They provide our customers with reliable and prompt service and complaints are, once again, at an all time low. We privileged to have agents and carriers who take tremendous pride in what they do and it shows.
We also challenged ourselves to increase unique visitors to our website, boost the number of pages viewed on the site, and raise the time spent on the site. We did it. The number of visitors rose by nearly a fifth, and and will finish 2011 with our highest page view year ever. To date, 2008 was the high water mark for page views. It is no mean feat to have beaten that record in a non-election year. In addition, our readers are more engaged, spending more time on the site with each visit. In the fourth quarter, ComScore has shown time spent on the site was up by 150%.
We would not have achieved these goals without the work of many people, including our Public Relations team, led by Kris Coratti, and our digital team, led by Katharine Zaleski. Certainly, the stellar journalism we publish is a critical factor. Under Sandy Sugawara’s direction, the Universal Desk has made sure that our news products are always fresh, offering readers the best we have to offer. But in today’s world, publishing great journalism is not enough. We have to get our stories in front of readers wherever they are. The PR team gets our writers and stories visibility from TV to radio to around the Web, building recognition for our brand and driving readership to our products. Our web traffic team, in turn, uses the real-time data we get about what is trending and what stories are getting traffic and use that data to drive more traffic to our stories. Under the leadership of Raju Narisetti, Katharine has built up a stellar team of people who hold the journalistic values that this paper has always been known for, but who also understand that publishing great content is not enough -- you have to get it out there and let people know it’s there. We have come a long way in a short period. We integrated print and digital a mere two years ago. While It is not perfect yet, we have made progress, providing everyone in the newsroom with the tools they need, getting “print” people to think digitally and “digital” people to understand what drives “print.” And we will know we have it right when everyone thinks about every platform.
With the explosion of mobile devices, mainly phones and tablets, we are rapidly expanding the products we offer readers on these devices. Whether it’s breaking news, story headlines, or full stories, thanks to great work by Beth Jacobs and her team, and under the leadership of Ken Babby and Raju Narisetti, we now have a host of mobile products that make our journalism easy to access on almost any device and are tailored to that device. We launched our Droid app this year and it was worth waiting for. It has been consistently one of the top news apps on the Droid. We will be launching a politics app tailored to the iPad very soon. It is packed not just with great content but with great tools for both the novice and the political junkie. We will be launching our ipad v2 app in 2012, based on a lot of work done this year. And there will be more.
In additional to our more traditional platforms in print and online, we are now reaching live audiences with our content. Led by Mary Jordan and Jenny Abramson, Washington Post Live hosted conferences on subjects ranging from non-communicable diseases, to education, to policy. They made news (Prince Charles attended a conference, we co-hosted a GOP Presidential debate), and, as the slogan says, advanced the conversation on a range of important topics. Among our other new businesses, Capitol Business completed its second full year under the leadership of Arnie Applebaum on the business side and Dan Beyers on the editorial side. It has become a must-read across the region and is right on target for the business goals we set for it. Express had another stellar year for both readership and revenue. And El Tiempo Latino proved once again why it is the leading weekly publication for the Latino population in the region. While Express is the result of hard work by many, it was conceived of and led by by Chris Ma, whose loss this year we all feel tremendously. Chris was passionate about both Express and ETL, and the audiences they serve. We will honor his legacy by keeping them as vibrant and important to the region as they became under his leadership.
One of our top priorities has been to build new businesses. In addition to those mentioned above, our New Ventures group, led by Tim Condon, spent the past year nurturing several new businesses in our core, a few of which are showing real promise, including our Capitol Deal site, which has a growing and loyal subscriber base and has drawn new customers to local businesses, and Service Alley, our service listing business, connecting residents with critical service needs through social me
Customer focus has always been a priority at The Washington Post. By naming it one of our five priorities for the year, I wanted to push us to get even better and more disciplined. We are in the process of evolving to a company which uses data and our expertise to provide customers with more and more compelling consumer experiences. The most successful companies, from Southwest airlines, to Apple, to Walmart, have demonstrated, time and again, that a relentless focus on the customer always wins. Laura Evans, in her new role as Chief Experience Officer, will help us get there.
No one does customer service better than our Production team. They print millions of newspapers a week--all from one plant. And I am happy to report that they handled more preprints this year for Thanksgiving than we have had in years. Under the leadership of Jim Coley and Frank Abbot, they do a masterful job every single day and night of the year. They continue to push their performance on everything from reduced breakage to reduced waste.
None of the progress we made this year could have happened without our IT team. Every project we accomplished this year required their partnership. We had a bumpy year launching our new content management system and IT has been there every step of the way, ensuring that our systems are working and helping us improve them. Increasingly, it is critical to everything we do - whether it is launching a new mobile app, publishing, or creating new creative ad units for our clients. Under the leadership of Shailesh Prakash and his team of engineers, we will continue to build a world class engineering organization that will help us create systems that serve as a competitive advantage. We have made tremendous progress and continue to get better every single day. Thank you for for helping us to get better and better!
Thank you also to our wonderful team in Community Relations, also led by Kris Coratti. We not only cover our community. We live in it. Our Community Relations team does a masterful job of partnering with businesses and non-profits in the region to enhance lives in the region and to ensure that The Post stays engaged in our local community.
Last, but hardly least, thank you to Accounting, led by the inspiring Usha Chaudary and her team, to HR, led by Wayne Connell, and thank you to our Legal team, led by Eric Lieberman and Jay Kennedy. They are the wizards that make everything go smoothly.
Happy New Year to all. I am proud and honored to work with each and every one of you. And looking forward to another great year!