Transcript

Express: New Web Site

Michael Grass
Express Web Editor and Blogger
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; 1:00 PM

Michael Grass, blogger and Web editor of Express, The Washington Post's free news daily, was online Wednesday, May 3, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the newspaper's new and improved Web site, Express , and the state of blogging on the local and national levels.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

Grass was formerly with Roll Call and co-founded dcist in 2004.

A transcript follows.

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Michael Grass: Good afternoon everyone. I hope you've gotten a chance to take a look at Express' new and improved website at readexpress.com . We're excited about the official release of the new site. I'm here to take your questions about the site and about blogging in general. Express readers likely have seen the daily Blog Log page in the Look Out section, something that I put together. So I read a lot of blogs everyday. So send in your questions.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Don't you think local blogs are just an extension of high school? They seem to be daily journals of people writing about work and thier non-existant dating life. I don't see how this is valuable.

Michael Grass: First of all, there are many different kinds of blogs. The vast majority of blogs out there are those that are personal journals and the like. And certain blogging circles, in D.C. and elsewhere, can indeed act like they're in high school.

But in all of the confusion out there in blog land there are some great topical blogs. Some of the best local topic-based blogs are neighborhood blogs. As an example, I would point you to

Frozen Tropics

, a great neighborhood blog about the District's H Street NE corridor and adjacent neighborhoods. There are many more.

There are other blogs out there that will read everything out there or within a specific niche. The list of blog links at

DCBlogs

is organized into topic area. That site also updates daily with excerpts of the best stuff that's out there.

I would also suggest the new Express website, specifically Free Ride, the site's flagship blog. I read a lot of blogs - I sift through the chatter.

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Washington, D.C.: What happened to the special Express editions that were available at Nationals games? I really miss those.

Michael Grass: You're talking about HomeStand, the special edition available at RFK Stadium that was very popular with readers. We know that many people miss it. Although it was a hit with those in the stands, advertisers didn't catch on. We do appreciate the interest. If you have a big pile of cash sitting around and would like to finance it for all the Nats fans out there, maybe you can talk to someone in advertising.

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Crystal City, Va.: Hello there! I went on that site last week and I couldn't find the contest page. I was trying to win tickets to see Tom's new movie. Anyway, what do I look for? Thanks

Michael Grass: If you scroll to the very bottom of the page, you'll find a link to our Contests page. But to my knowledge, Express is not hosting any contests at the current time.

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Washington, D.C.: So, what brought this on? Why did Express launch a blog site instead of an online version of the paper? And what the heck is this Window Shopper thing? It's pretty funny.

Michael Grass: Express' website, prior to the new site, just sat there. You could download the print edition, but that was about it. Because Express has gotten such a good response from our readers, many who ride Metrorail to and from the office, we've always known that online there was a gap in our non-print interaction with our readers. People often say that Express is a website in print. Now we've made Express a real website.

But you're right, this is a different kind of web experience. Since there are so many news outlets available online, there was really no purpose to putting our wire copy online, especially when washingtonpost.com does such a good job at delivering continuous news. So we wanted to do something different and the blog is what it turned out to be. A blog with some cool side components.

Check out Metro Links, our Google Map-enabled navigation tool to explore the city around Metrorail stations and what may be nearby, like bars, clubs, exhibits, etc.

As for Window Shopper, that is another blog penned by Express' Chris Mincher. Essentially, it's classifieds as readable entertainment. People spend countless hours searching for cheap and free stuff online, Mincher makes it entertaining. It is pretty funny. I encourage everyone to check it out and, if you'd be so kind, send in classifieds tips.

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Arlington, Va.: What do you think the Post's foray into blogging has to say about their stance on the state of journalism? Some people are beginning to suggest that the future of journalism is collaborative, open, and user-generated. Is The Post positioning itself to be a leader in this new media landscape, or just trying to jump on a new fad?

Michael Grass: The Post has always been a leader in online journalism. In terms of blogging, washingtonpost.com offers a wide array of topic-based blogs. And for it, The Post has been recognized as the No. 2 blogging newspaper in the country, according to Jay Rosen's Press Think. The Houston Chronicle was rated as No. 1.

I think what you're seeing with Metro section columnist

Marc Fisher

's blog and

Joel Achenbach

's. And I'd be remiss if I'd fail to mention

Chris Cillizza

's wonderful politics blog. (Chris used to work with me at Roll Call.) In many ways this is where journalism is going, but the print edition is no where near the obituary page.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Hi, I was wondering if you're going to put your stories online. I really liked a piece on D.C. Yoga Week and I wanted to refer back to it to go to classes, but then it wasn't on your site (unless I wanted to download the PDF). Could you please put stuff like that online in HTML?

Michael Grass: Acutally, on Tuesday, we blogged D.C. Yoga Week. Here . Although we don't have plans at the current time to publish all of our content from Fit, Look Out, Styles, etc. we do have plans to introduce new blogging features where you'll see some overlap. So check back for that. In the meantime, you can download the .pdf version of Express. That's up at the top of the page.

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Alexandria, Va.: Are you going to put your local entertainment pieces that run on Thursdays (that pullout section) on the site? Those aren't wire stories.

Michael Grass: This question is related to the last. You won't see articles verbatim. But overtime, you'll see more of the original work that the Express staff puts together on Free Ride.

Currently, we publish an expanded daily Top Stop on Free Ride and the rest of that night's picks are on our Top Stops blog.

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You're Moving To : A tropical island and you can only "bring" five blogs with you. Which ones?

Michael Grass: Let me think about that for a bit.

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Grand Rapids, Mich.: What does "blog" mean?

Michael Grass: Good to hear from good 'ole Grand Rapids, Gerald Ford's hometown. Blog stands for "Web log." Similarly, someone has said that Express' new website is a combination of a newspaper and blog, so "blogaper." I really don't like that any better than I like the word "blogosphere," which reminds me of an old broken-down carnival ride at the Ionia County Free Fair, which Grand Rapids, you must know is about 30 miles to your east.

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Vienna, Va.: I've read research results that show a very low percentage of people actually read blogs. However, I'd be willing to bet that a lot of people have read blogs without even knowing it -- thinking they're just looking at a Website -- and that these numbers might be misleading. Further, I look at blogs and Web sites as one in the same. It's all the Internet and, for me, it comes down to content. I don't care whether it's a blog or a standard Web site, if the content is relevent/interesting. Thoughts?

Michael Grass: That's a good question. A blog is essentially a website that is just updated frequently. I'm not certain as to percentage statistics for blog readership, but I think the idea of what a blog can be and do has evolved over the past couple years and more quickly in the past 1-2 years as traditional media organizations, like The Post, have taken notice. Someone told me that the word "blog" will be dead in five years. I'm not exactly sure about that. But as you see more media integration in the coming years, what a blog is and what a website is will end up in a gray area. It already is in some respects.

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I've Always Liked ...: ... your blogging but never been a fan of the odd, sporadic phrases you choose to embolden and it makes it hard to read. What's the story Grass?

Michael Grass: Though I've heard some complaints, I've heard more praise. Not everyone reads the text of blogs despite most bloggers hopes that every word is consumed by the reader. Most readers are scanners. And the bolding lets proper names and locations stand out, allowing the reader to quickly consume our writing. Our editorial strategy is very neighborhood specific and very hyperlocal. It'd be a shame if a specific location or name of something that's relevant to a blog post would get lost in the flow of ordinary text.

But thanks for the input.

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Pajama Peninsula, Petworth, Washington, D.C.: Mike,

Do you actually have an office, or do you blog in your pajamas in your "home office?"

How many bloggers does FreeRide have, and how many do you plan to have?

Michael Grass: I have two offices: My dining room table in my apartment and my desk at Free Ride's Arlington bureau. I will also do my work around town. I'm at Tryst in Adams Morgan in the mornings sometimes, Open City in Woodley Park at night and I've actually blogged from the Wi-Fi hotspot in Farragut Square.

We have a couple different contributors from Express and elsewhere. As for the future, check back in.

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Re: PDF: I have to say, I love your paper, but the PDF version is a computer-crasher. So hard to load -- only the very fastest computer can do so without crumbling under the pressure. Anything you can do about it?

Michael Grass: I'll check in on that. Hopefully the blog loads just fine.

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Washington, D.C.: Give us a list and description of some of your favorite D.C. blogs.

Michael Grass: This is a tough question. First and foremost, I am an avid reader of DCist , just because I co-founded the site back in 2004. Being an unpaid civic blog administration is a thankless job. The folks at DCist should be thanked for providing the community an online living room in which to have an open converation and dialogue about the issues facing the city.

As for my favorite local blogs, that is way too difficult to choose just a couple. But if you read Free Ride everyday, you'll certainly see a good selection of what's out there locally and nationally that's worthy of reading.

That's all my time everyone, I must get back to blogging.

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