Print and Online: Like Ham and Eggs

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Deborah Howell
Sunday, April 6, 2008

Most regular local readers of The Post read it on newsprint. And when they want something in the paper and it's not there, they usually don't like me telling them to find it on washingtonpost.com.

Dear readers, this problem can be handled only by using the same words I recently used to journalists complaining about nasty online comments on their work: Get over it. Please.

It's just not possible to cram everything so many readers want into a newspaper and get it delivered by 6 a.m. The newspaper, by the very nature of how it's produced and distributed, will be outdated by the time you receive it. If you want the latest Post-brand breaking news and information, you must go to washingtonpost.com.

Here are the stats: The 2007 Scarborough Report said that of adults over 18 in the Washington area market, about 50 percent read The Post in print or online on the average weekday. Thirty-six percent read it only in print; 6 percent read it only online. Only 8 percent read both.

As newspapers grapple with declining circulation and advertising, journalists and business executives are scrambling to give readers a good newspaper in print and online. Even the smartest folks in the news business don't know how the newspaper's traditional economic model is going to support a robust news-gathering operation.

The Post in print still has, by far, more local readers and brings in more revenue than does the online product. It costs a lot of money to cover news all over the world, and your subscription fees and advertising help pay for it. It's edited and packaged for the ease of readers. It goes well with coffee in the morning. You can read it on the Metro, tuck it under your arm and take it to lunch. And who wants to sit in an easy chair at night with the fire going and read the news off a computer?

Obviously, print is my home. Having grown up on newspapers (my dad was a newspaperman) and worked for them most of my life, I love them. The sound of presses running still thrills me. The ink rubbing off on my hands isn't a bother. I love unfurling Page 1 and leafing through pages for surprises and stories that I didn't know I wanted to read.

The economics of the newspaper business means that hard decisions by The Post and most other papers to drop certain content -- such as most of the stock tables -- have brought great anguish to some readers, especially older ones. That saved money on newsprint. Some decisions are based on both economic considerations and reader interest, such as canceling comics. But ol' Mary Worth and the stock tables live online.

Readers miss the daily congressional calendar, congressional votes and the list of Supreme Court hearings. But they're all on washingtonpost.com. You didn't get that late sports score you wanted? It's online.

Cyberspace is free and instant and has no space limits. Washingtonpost.com is not just where The Post in print goes to live online or where Post features go instead of dying. It's where new journalism is created. For instance, The Post's Metro news is supplemented in many ways, including with an information-rich local site for Loudoun County (soon to be replicated for Fairfax County) and a way to find out about home sales, crimes and schools in your community.

The Fact Checker by Michael Dobbs is one of my favorite features. But it's online more than in the paper. So is The Trail, the presidential campaign blog. Sports blogs, business blogs, opinion blogs abound on washingtonpost.com. A few are "reverse published" in the paper, such as Marc Fisher's Raw Fisher blog on Tuesdays in Metro.

When a big investigative project is published, reading it in the paper feels right. But the online version will have bells and whistles not in print. The investigation into the District public schools included vast information for every single school online.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity