Why The Post Published 'Murder on Swann Street' Web-Only

By Andrew Alexander
Sunday, June 7, 2009

Readers of the print Post got a tantalizing invitation in their newspaper last week. For three days beginning Sunday, the front of the Metro section promoted "Murder on Swann Street," a two-part narrative about the murder of young attorney Robert Wone in 2006. It promised an "intriguing, vexing whodunit with strange sexual undertones and clues and characters fit for a pulp novel."

The preview didn't disappoint. Reporter Paul Duggan spun an absorbing mystery that left you scratching your head and wanting more.

But there was a catch: Readers were forced to go to The Post's Web site to read it. Not a word appeared in the newspaper.

That didn't sit well with a lot of readers. Some, who don't have a computer, felt cheated. Others, who don't like to read online, felt inconvenienced.

"You feel like you're paying for a subscription, but you're not getting what you pay for," protested Joan White, a Post reader since 1974 who lives in a Springfield retirement community.

"I don't have a computer. A lot of my friends don't have computers," she said. "But even people with computers like to turn the page."

I often hear from older readers who fear that The Post, which is losing money, will soon end the print edition and force them online. Many are uncomfortable in the digital age. When they see "teasers" in the newspaper urging them to go to The Post Web site for videos or online chats, they're certain the days of the print product are numbered. For them, "Murder on Swann Street" was more evidence.

Post editors knew that putting "Murder on Swann Street" exclusively on the Web might upset some print-only readers. But they felt they had few options.

Length was an issue. Each 3,300-word installment, starting on the front page, would require another page and a half to accommodate text, headlines and photos. That's a lot when The Post is trying to conserve costly newsprint.

Sharply reducing the length, even though many elements had been previously reported, would destroy the intricate narrative that gave Duggan's tale its richness. Chopping it into a long mini-series would ruin its flow.

Raju Narisetti, The Post managing editor who oversees the Web site, said editors explored putting it in The Post Magazine or other sections of the paper but concluded it "wasn't particularly suitable" elsewhere.

They decided it worked best on the Web, which he said allowed "multimedia approaches to a compelling saga." For example, online readers can listen to the riveting 911 call to police reporting Wone's murder.

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