Ask The Post
Wednesday, March 15, 2006; 12:00 PM
This Week: Rajiv Chandrasekaran , assistant managing editor, Continuous News, was online Wednesday, March 15, at noon ET to discuss The Post's online initiatives, including how the newspaper publishes breaking news on washingtonpost.com.
The transcript follows.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Good day everyone. It's great to be here chatting with you today about The Post's continuous news operation. I'm looking forward to answering your questions, so fire away...
Washington, D.C.: Wow. I've been working in journalism and publishing for 25 years and I have never heard of "continuous news" until today. Would you please explain what that is?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Continuous news, quite simply, is what we call the staff of reporters and editors who are responsible for getting breaking news on washingtonpost.com. When news happens, we try to get our beat reporters to bang out a quick story for post.com. In some cases, though, our reporters are unable to file quickly. Perhaps they are on Air Force One or knee-deep in floodwaters or riding in a Humvee in Iraq. In those cases, reporters on The Post's Continuous News Desk jump in and write stories for post.com. We try to get our stories up as quickly as possible while ensuring that they are fair, accurate and thoroughly reported -- just like stories that appear in the ink-on-paper version of The Post.
New York, N.Y.: What is the future for reader created content and how will you manage it effectively?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: We're moving in the direction of allowing more reader-created content on washingtonpost.com. We now have several blogs on the site that allow readers to post responses, and we're developing a system to allow readers to post comments at the end of some articles. Of course, it's something we have to manage carefully. There are some folks out there who don't believe in civil discourse, and we don't want to have our forums filled with hate speech or profanity.
Hyattsville, Md.: Hello, how do you deal with news breaking late in the day, which would ordinarily go into the next morning's paper? There must be a conflict between staying current, and competing with other Web sites or cable news; yet I am sure readers do not want the same story in the next day's paper. Do you do a breaking story for the net, then update for the paper? How do you keep it "fresh" for the morning edition? Does this mean a lot of extra work for journalists? Thanks.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: It does, unfortunately, mean more work for our reporters. We're often asking already busy staffers to write stories for the Web and then another version of the story for the print edition. When news breaks late in the day, it's often easier to get contributions from reporters, because they're going to be banging out the story for the paper. The Continuous News desk does more work in the morning hours, when beat reporters are still in the field or tied up in interviews.
When we've got a good story, and it's competitive, we're likely to publish it on the Web sooner rather than later. That has not always been the case, but editors here recognize that we're operating in a 24-hour news environment and we have to be competitive with other news sites out there.
Fairfax, Va.: I notice that washingtonpost.com has stories on the Web site before the paper is printed. How did you all come to that decision? I'm sure you were concerned that it would give other media outlets a heads up about key stories. What was the thinking about that? Thanks.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Part of the job of the Continuous News Desk is to push stories for the next day's paper to washingtonpost.com as soon as we can. Often, we'll post stories that will be on the next day's front page on post.com's homepage by 7 or 8 p.m. Generally speaking, those stories won't be big scoops but things everyone else is covering -- a speech by Bush, a big vote in Congress, violence in Iraq, etc. Of course, there may be elements of those stories that are unique to The Post. If our competitors see that material and decide to use it, we hope they'll credit us (which they normally do). However, when we've got an only-in-the-Post scoop that we know will make waves, we often will wait until later in the evening to post it. To see those pieces, it's best to check the site around midnight Eastern time.
Washington, D.C.: Rajiv,
Why is that oftentimes I have noticed, the breaking news appears on CNN's Web site first and much later on other newspapers's Web sites including Washington Post? Are you guys slower to react?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: We're monitoring the wires services and other news outlets as CNN does. The reason we might be a few minutes behind is that we often want to make sure the initial reports are accurate before posting them. Consider yesterday, for example: We were a few minutes behind CNN in posting the news from the Moussaoui trial, but our headline, and our staff-written story, provided a better explanation of what happened than the wires. The wires led with the fact that Moussaoui could still face the death penalty. The more important development was that the judge had excluded the testimony of crucial government witnesses. That's what we led with.
Burke, Va.: I want to congratulate The Washington Post on your excellent Web site - it's fantastic. The news is easy to find, being able to discuss with the reporters is great, and I like the way the news updates throughout the day. You have no equal online.
What kind of news feeds do you use? What kinds of image feeds?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Thanks. (And after this one, I'll post a comment from someone who thinks we're not doing a good job.)
We get our wire-service news feed from the Associated Press and Reuters. Same for photos. But what makes our site unique, I believe, is the volume of original, staff-written copy -- stuff you won't find elsewhere. And we've got lots of staff-written blogs, online discussions like this one, and original multimedia offerings. (Take a look at the site today for a video discussion between John Feinstein and three legendary basketball coaches.)
Arlington, Va.: I think washingtonpost.com does a poor job at both presenting breaking news and, in particular, of distinguishing articles published in the morning's paper and new content added during the day.
Although some articles are flagged with dates, that only is for the few items at the top of the page.
The Web site should make it easy to read the content from that day's paper (not your area of responsibility, I understand), and determining which articles have been added or updated during the day.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: We try to present breaking news on the top part of the homepage. It'll either have a headline and a brief summary, or it'll appear under "More Headlines." Our site design unfortunately doesn't allow us to put a time/date on the homepage for those More Headlines stories, but if you click on them, you'll see the time and date right under the byline.
To look at what was in the print edition of the paper, I suggest clicking on the "Print Edition" link at the top of the homepage.
Washington, D.C.: Three questions-
1. How's the Iraq book coming?
2. What's the worst mispronunciation you've ever heard of your name?
3. This comes from a flirty little debate I had with a Post reporter at a party a week and a half ago. If I rarely pick up the print edition of the paper but have checked washingtonpost.com at least once or twice a day for probably six or seven years, can I still say I read "The Post" every day?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: 1. My book about the American occupation of Iraq is almost done. It'll be published in September. Hopefully there will be an excerpt in The Post.
2. My last name has been butchered in more way than you could imagine. If we had an audio link here, I'd give you a few samples.
3. Sure you can. There are some days when I read the paper entirely online and I still say that I read The Post every day. But hey, buy a dead-tree copy now and then. We could use the help in propping up circulation. Sure, we make money off of the ads on the Web site, but we still ink-on-paper readers to make ends meet!
Washington, D.C.: Do you work for The Washington Post or washingtonpost.com? Do I need to care who works for which organization? Does it matter to employees, or do they freely move from one organization to another?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: I work for The Washington Post. washingtonpost.com is part of washingtonpost.newsweek interactive, which is a separate business unit of The Washington Post Company. I don't run the Web site. The site's executive editor is Jim Brady (a great guy). We have a very collegial and collaborative relationship. As a reader, who works where shouldn't matter. We're all committed to upholding the same standards of accuracy, fairness and rigor that distinguishes The Post.
San Francisco, Calif.: Good morning! Thank you for having this chat. Frequently there are articles in the print version of The Post which are enhanced by several interesting photographs. Most of the time these photographs are not accessible in the online edition. Is there a financial or editorial reason for this? Can it be changed so we online readers can view the accompanying photographs? Most times an article is more enjoyable, interesting even enlightening with these photos.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: We're working on that issue. I, like many of my colleagues, would like to see more of The Post's wonderful photography accompany articles on post.com. The problem is a technical and design issue that requires time-consuming manual work-arounds. But stay tuned... In the meantime, make sure to check out the great photo galleries that the people at post.com assemble every day. They often put together special galleries to accompany Post stories when there are a lot of good photos.
Washington, D.C.: Your reporters have been doing a great job with video recently, congrats. Will we see more of that?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Yes. The congrats go to washingtonpost.com's videographers and video editors, who are the best in the business. (They've won more awards than there is room to display on their walls.) Expect to see more video of all kinds on the site: feature pieces, breaking news and live streaming images.
Columbus, Ohio: As an addendum to the question from the individual in New York, how do you intend to balance and manage the broadcast of factual analysis versus the deluge of opinions via blogs?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Good question. We have two types of blogs on washingtonpost.com: news blogs and opinion blogs. Examples of news blogs are the Richmond Report, the Maryland Moment, the DC Wire and the Fix, Chris Cillizza's excellent political blog. Opinion blogs include the Achenblog and Liz Kelly's cool new Celebritology blog. We want our news blogs to adhere to the same standards of fairness and objectivity that we'd expect from stories in the news sections of the paper. The opinion blogs can be just that -- filled with opinion.
Ashburn, Va.: Why does washingtonpost.com ask you to register before you can see any further detailed information? How does The Post use this personal information? Thanks!
The reason we want your Zip Code is that we have two version of our homepage, one for people in the Washington region, which includes more local news, traffic and weather, and a version weighted with more national and international news for people outside the Washington region.
San Francisco, Calif.: How do The Post's new radio operations figure into your online news offerings?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Reporters from the Continuous News Desk will be regular contributors to Washington Post radio, set to debut March 30 in the Washington area on 1500 AM and 107.7 FM. You'll hear reporters such as Fred Barbash and Debbi Wilgoren in the mornings. They'll take you inside the big stories of the day.
Washington, D.C.: What's the upside of having 2 different newsrooms? Thanks for taking my question.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: I spend a lot of time on the Metro and in taxis shuttling between Arlington and the District! (And so does Jim Brady.) Sure, there's a logistical challenge being a few miles apart, but we don't let that stop us from staying in close touch. Editors on the Continuous News desk participate in washingtonpost.com's editorial meetings via speakerphone, and our editors talk to their editors dozens of times a day.
Fairfax, Va.: At what point do you determine that a news story has been researched enough and ripened such that it is ready for publication on the Web site? Has editing changed dramatically from the time when stories were presented in time for a relatively static deadline for publication in a traditional morning newspaper as to the moving "deadline" of the Web site and 24 hour news?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: We're not going to post a story before its been well reported and edited, but we recognize that we can't spend the same time reporting, writing and editing as our colleagues who write and edit for the print edition. The process is shorter, of course, when it comes to stories for the Web, but not so short that we're posting half-baked stories.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Time to run back to the Continuous News Desk. Thanks to everyone for participating, and for asking such good questions. I'll be back to take more questions in a few months.
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