Allbritton Communications will debut this spring a new web site on local news in D.C.

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009

Two years ago, a pair of Washington Post journalists left to launch Politico, a Web site that quickly established itself as a formidable force.

Now the former editor of The Post's Web site is starting a venture for Politico's parent company that strikes at one of his old newspaper's traditional strengths: local news. The new site, announced Wednesday by Allbritton Communications, will build on a merger of the Web pages now fielded by the company's television stations, WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and its cable sibling, NewsChannel 8.

"You try to build a Web-site-first culture that operates on a 24-hour basis," said Jim Brady, who left in December after four years as editor of "It's got a start-up feel to it. I want it to be very experimental." The unnamed site will debut next spring.

Robert Allbritton, the company's chief executive, wrote his staff that he wants to make the new enterprise "among the nation's most ambitious and innovative projects of its kind," and that it will heed the "lessons" of Politico while remaining separate from that operation.

Marcus Brauchli, The Post's executive editor, said that "we take all competition seriously, and I have high regard for what Mr. Allbritton has done with his television stations and Politico." But he said his newspaper "is very strong in local news. . . . The reach and penetration of The Washington Post in its area makes us the dominant player. We are deeply cognizant that makes us a target of most of our rivals in this area."

In a major initiative, The Post recently created a local home page, featuring a continuously updated mix of stories and features focusing on the District, Maryland and Virginia. The alternate format, which local readers can select as their permanent home page, is drawing several times the online traffic of the old Metro page, Brauchli said. He also noted this month's creation of the Local Living section, which replaced the special sections aimed at individual jurisdictions that had been published on Thursdays.

Reflecting on The Post's recent changes, including a major redesign, Brauchli said: "Where we see areas of weakness in our coverage, we always strive to improve them."

While Politico's success relies heavily on revenue from its print edition, published whenever Congress is in session, Allbritton's local site will have no printed counterpart. As with any start-up, Brady said, it will take time to turn a profit, as the venture goes up against not just The Post but the Washington Times and Washington Examiner.

Politico has shown that speed and savvy can equal success in the fast-moving Web environment, even with a modest staff. Brady said he plans to hire 50 people, including about two dozen reporters, and "will focus on things that touch people's lives: traffic and development, local entertainment and local sports. We'll probably do less of the broader features. I don't think we want to cover every place The Post puts bodies. That's a game the site can't win."

The Post's Metro staff has traditionally hovered around 100, and Brauchli noted that the Business, Style and Sports sections also tackle local topics.

John Harris and Jim VandeHei left The Post in 2007 to start Politico. Brady has been a Web consultant since quitting, after concluding that he would have less authority under the ongoing merger of The Post's newsroom and Web site. "I was sorry that Jim left; he's a great talent," Brauchli said.

Asked about the prospect of competing against his former employer, Brady said: "I feel really weird. I love The Post. This is not any kind of revenge thing."

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