Good News!

Below the Beltway
(Eric Shansby)
By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Note to our readers: As you may have heard, the newspaper industry is facing financial challenges created by competition from new technologies. This has resulted in unfortunate rumors, which we would like to put to rest today. Though newspapers have been seeking ways to cut costs, we are certainly not getting desperate, and we will never compromise on quality. Any adjustments we make are purely for the purpose of streamlining our product to better serve you, the reader.

Here are some small changes you can expect to be seeing in the coming months:

1. Fewer articles

By that we don't mean fewer stories. We mean fewer articles. "The," "an" and "a" will be used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. We need the space.

2. Fewer stories

Okay, actually, we mean that, too. But we will not be losing the sorts of stories that marketing surveys have shown that you care about, namely stories that affect you personally. In fact, for home-delivery subscribers, we plan to use direct-mail targeting techniques to insert your name into stories in appropriate places, the way those sweepstakes letters inform you that You, [Your name], may have already won $1 billion dollars!

Example: "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Tuesday that leading economic indicators point to continued consumer confidence by Mrs. Barbara Poontsnicker of 234 Cottontail Trail, Reston, Va., and other purchasers of retail goods."

3. Cruddier paper stock

For some reason, readers seldom complain about the quality of our paper, even though we basically print on dried beaver cud. Since you seem not to mind, we have identified paper quality as a major target area for additional cost-saving, and are negotiating a new paper-supply contract with the manufacturers of those flushable toilet-seat covers.

4. Footnotes{1}

5. Paid product placement

Following the lead of Hollywood, we will be inserting into our news and feature stories, as a revenue-generating device, the occasional gratuitous mention of a commercial product. Do not worry, these will be placed so discreetly that no one will notice that they are there, exactly the way no one will notice that you are wearing the new Hanes "Her Way"® Invisible Panties with the patented No-Line technology, a major innovation in the intimate apparel industry.

6. Strategic hype

To boost street sales, we are going to put slightly exaggerated front-page headlines on some editions. Maintaining our all-important commitment to accuracy, the stories themselves will not be affected. It is only the headlines that might be "goosed" a little to stimulate impulse buying.

For example, the headline in the home-delivery paper might read "Bernanke Praises Good Economy," whereas the street-sale edition might read "BERNANKE HANGED BY ANGRY MOB."

7. The use of poetry

Gradually, we will be moving to an all-poetry format as a word-saving device. The nature of poetry, after all, is to say a great deal in a short space, through an economy of words. This experiment will begin in the obituary section:

Sally M. Hoofnagle, Gaithersburg florist,

Has died in her sleep of a hemorrhaging cyst.

She wants her remains sprayed on phlox and begonias.

Sally was seventy. She will be mist.

1. We're going to be using them. They give us a dual advantage. First, we can cram a lot more type into much smaller spaces. Second, because no one older than 35 can read type this small, it allows us to appeal directly to the most financially desirable demographic in our circulation area without taking the risk of alienating other, older readers. For example, a humor column might observe, but only in a footnote, that it's always fun to watch some ancient coot try to negotiate the landing as he or she hits the bottom of a fast-moving escalator.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is

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