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Ask The Post

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Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti
Washington Post Managing Editors
Monday, March 30, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's managing editors, Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd were online Monday, March 30 at 12 p.m. ET to discuss the recent changes and enhancements in both the newspaper and Web site. They will also answer your questions about the current state of the news industry.

Today's Ask The Post will be the start of a monthly series of discussions with top Washington Post editors about the news industry.

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Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: Thank you for joining this conversation today. We are happy to answer questions about the changes we have made in print and online today. We are always eager to hear feedback so we can continue to keep the Post relevant and essential to all of you. While some of the changes are being driven by the state of the economy and its impact on the news business, we remain very focused on making sure whatever we do makes sense for increasingly busy readers. Indeed, we think that many of the changes we are making will help our content more easily accessible to you while making sure it remains relevant and essential at a time when you have multiple choices.

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Richmond, Va.: Hi- I understand your need to be profitable. My 86-year-old mother in Bethesda just started to subscribe, she's bought the paper for years and finally relented to subscribing; she does the crossword daily. If it is no longer in the paper, that's bad as she has no access to the internet. What was the rationale for deleting the puzzles from the paper edition, they are paper puzzles. While comics are more likely to transfer to digital readers, puzzle bespeak a need to be in print and on paper.

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: We do have one Crossword as well as four puzzles every day in the Style section to make sure readers such as your grandmother can still enjoy the paper. Many of our other readers have told us they go online to find many more puzzles.

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Arlington, Va.: I have been reading the WP, carefully, for several decades. I think the changes that have been implemented are fine and are in line with the Post's core missions. Given the financial realities the news industry faces a couple of reminders to those that are fussing: 1. Change is never easy. 2. Better having a Post than not having a Post.

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: That's great to hear. We do worry about the impact of change and try to make sure we are communicating the changes in advance and doing it with readers such as yourself in mind.

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McPherson Square: Sports and Business has been a combined section in the past. Why not continue that? I bet the vast readers of business and sports would rather have those in one combined section that having business in A. Just wondering.....

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: Many of our business stories were already running on Page 1 and in the A section because they are so closely tied to general interest news and the state of our economy remains the biggest news story. Even as we put more business in A section, our commitment to this coverage remains as strong as ever and we continue to highlight and provide the same space for some of our most prominent and beloved writers and columnists such as Steve Pearlstein.

As to Sports and Business being in one section, our reader surveys tell us that while there is an overlap, it is a lot less than those who read both the A section and Business.

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Herndon, Va.: We were sorry to see "Sticklers" go. My son, now 9, has been solving them for over a year. He has enjoyed the challenge, and it often showed him more than one way to look at something. How was the decision made to omit it?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: For all the choices we are making, we have used reader surveys to make sure we keep the features that are most popular. Our young readers are the ones who say they are more keen to solve puzzles online than in the paper.

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Alexandria, Va.: The list of local bankruptcies was very out of place in today's national news...why not put that in the metro page?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: Thank you for the suggestion. Since it is under Washington Business we felt it was appropriate there but would be happy to consider your suggestion.

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Alexandria, Va.: Why not sell your "Weekend" section as a free-standing newspaper throughout the week. You could charge 50 cents, sell it at hotels, 7-11's. I'd buy it if I missed the paper b/c I was on vacation, etc.

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: We are game for all interesting ideas that help. We know that Weekend, with its comprehensive "news you can use" approaches, is one of our most popular sections and vital to the Post serving its Washington-area readers well. We don't plan on asking readers to pay extra for this.

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washingtonpost.com: For those looking for the Judge Parker comic strip - the most recent strip is now available online here and at www.washingtonpost.com/comics.

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Oviedo, Fla.: Isn't it disingenuous to keep saying the "good" news is that your Web traffic is strong? The ad base for that readership is weak - for you and all dailies. How long can you just give away the product for paltry ad support? And why should you? Research shows web ads will be diffuse and not just switch over, en masse, to online outlets like newspapers. Newspaper site ad 'lineage' is actually down in the past Q.

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: You have identified one of the real issues we are facing. We feel Post content online is useful, relevant and interesting for the large number of readers who go to our site every day. We would love to find a way to bring in more revenue to help support the journalism that makes our site robust. Any ideas are welcome!

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Hagerstown, Md.: My 80 year old father-inlaw has religiously purchased the Sunday Post for years. The last two weeks, there weren't any coupouns. He, being retired, takes advantage of your coupon offerings. He wants to know if this trend of no coupons in the Sunday paper will continue.

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: This looks like a local delivery issue as we continue to have substantial number of coupons in the Sunday Post. Can you email homedeliery@washpost.com or call 334-6100 or 800-477-4679 so our circulation department can look into your specific issue. Thanks for alerting us.

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Saginaw, Mich.: As a midwestern political junkie, I just wanted you to know that I am hooked on getting my news from washingtonpost.com. Other websites (especially TV-based) are too shallow and repetitive.

Sorry I can't help with paper subscription, but I hope you continue to be the best source of investigatory journalism in the country!

Thanks

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: We continue to invest significant resources in washingtonpost.com, especially in our news coverage. Our best writers, in addition to writing for the paper, also frequently participate in chats, blogs and video, and will continue to do more online. Washington is where the action is and we think we have among the best investigative and political reporters and writers.

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Nuclear Opti, ON: Do you believe that at some point in the future the Post will become online only? It seems like it's only a matter of time before newsprint and related production/distribution goes the way of the dodo. Isn't the Post brand far more dependent on the quality of the reporting? Seems like that's where your resources need to be applied...

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: Newspapers haven't been a very efficient way of delivering news for a while. Hard to imagine a new business that is starting today that plans to cut trees, use complex machines to print paper and then send it via cars/trucks to every consumer's home.

Still, we feel that there will always be a large number of you who want to read your paper over coffee. Our goal is to have our strong journalism available where you want it when you want it--in print and online and increasingly over mobile as well. And we agree with you that what makes the Post brand so strong is indeed the quality of its reporting, writing and editing.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is it remotely possible to tailor each paper's content according to a subscriber's preferences? I, for example, would eliminate the Sports and Metro sections.

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: The problem really is in terms of delivering different papers to each household. It would be an expensive and difficult challenge and perhaps add a lot more costs at a time when we are trying to do more with less.

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NW Washington: What was the reason for moving the business section into the front page section, does it save money? In my opinion giving a section A front page of its own (A1, B1, C1, etc.) allows them to highlight key events and stories that are important to read to stay "in the know". Businss, at least to me, is just as important as the Front Page top stories and Metro, but is absolutely more important than any Sports or Style information that is more about culture. Why not condense one of those sections?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: The economy is the biggest story going and many of the stories by our Business team are landing on the front page and in A section. Since Business has become a general interest subject to many of our readers, we think it makes sense to put related content in one section.

Just fyi, a single page of newsprint multiplied by about 650,000 copies costs roughly $2,500. It quickly adds up.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: How important is local news when the decisions are being made to make changes or make cuts?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: Local news is at the core of our coverage as reflected in our Metro staff being the largest single group of reporters in the newsroom.

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Anonymous: "For all the choices we are making, we have used reader surveys to make sure we keep the features that are most popular."

Does that include comics? Because I never saw one, and I'm a faithful reader.

How was the decision made to drop six current, ongoing strips while keeping Peanuts reruns and tired old "zombie" strips that might as well be reruns, such as Family Circus, Garfield, Beetle Bailey, Mark Trail, and Dennis the Menace. those strips should have been put our of their (and our) miserry years ago.

Sacred cows, anyone?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: We do regular readership surveys both on the phone and in-person and the comics that moved online were the least popular with our readers.

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Petworth: I read that some newspaper companies are experimenting with a Kindle-like product that allows readers to get home delivery of their newspaper daily via wireless. Is the Post going to use these machines?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: The Post is very much available on the Kindle and you should check it out. It is among the most popular newspapers on Kindle.

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no magic solution: But, I hope that once the current horrendous downturn is over, the print product will strengthen again. If all print journalism disappears, what will all those eager bloggers blog about?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: Amen

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Alexandria, VA: I've been aware of the coming changes to the Business section for some time now. You have described them, more or less, as rolling the business section in the A section. After retrieving this morning's paper from my doorstep, I was quite irritated to find that the business content (as it previously existed in the business section) has essentially ceased to exist. In its place was a full page dedicated to local business (which is fine), and a page and a half of random bits and pieces of other business. But there were no full stories, and most of the "news" content that used to appear on the front page of the business section was no where to be found (at least not easily).

I had expected to find essentially the same front page business section, but printed as a page in the A section (similar to what the NY Times started doing this a few years ago with their metro section). A vast quantity of the important news right now is business related, and not all of it can fit on the front page of the A section (at least not without crowding out other headline stories). To not have a consolidated page of national business news is very discouraging.

I realize that the Post, and all newspapers, are facing dire financial conditions. However, until you can find a way for the website to support the business, you are walking a fine line with the print edition. Cut too much material, and those of us who are actually buying the paper will stop subscribing. I'm strongly considering that now.

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: We really think we have one of the best teams of reporters and columnists covering the economy and we aren't cutting back. We are only changing the place where the likes of Steve Pearlstein, David Cho and others can be found.

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washingtonpost.com: To the person who was asking about obtaining an electronic version of the newspaper, here is our e-replica service

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Silver Spring, Md.: Why don't you put Gene Weingarten in charge of the Comics section?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: We are putting it on our list of things to ask Gene!!

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Washington, D.C.: Good Afternoon Liz and Raju,

If you could please discuss any other changes that the Washington Post is considering for the print edition. I have read the Washington Post for more than 30 years, starting when I was 4 years old "borrowing" (taking) the Sports section from my father.

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: Even with the recent changes, it is important to remember we are not cutting ANY coverage, be it politics, business, sports or local news. And we any of the changes we make, we are always getting feedback from readers, both formally and informally. Some of the changes address the fact that our increasingly busy readers want smart, forward-looking and tightly edited papers.

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Washington, D.C.: The answer to Alexandria about the lack of business news this morning certainly did not address his concerns or questions. Was that intentional?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: The biggest story in this morning's Post was a business story--on the auto industry. Normally on Monday morning, the business section has been devoted to Washington business with any other business news running in the A section.

With this change, Washington business will get dedicated space Monday-Friday. Rest of the week Business will get its own space inside A section as well as additional space on Page 1, depending on news. The Sunday Business section will be as robust as ever.

Online, we have added Business to home page navigation bar and this morning unveiled additional Business content in a redesigned Business & Economy section.

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Washington, D.C.: I know this may be unpopular in this forum, but I'm one of the young people who gets all of her news online and rarely buys a newspaper. That being said, I would see no problem in paying for online content, and I'd rather do that than see one more newspaper go out of business. Why are newspapers so reluctant to charge for online content?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: We aren't necessarily reluctant but want to make sure that the process of charging online doesn't discourage people from coming to washingtonpost.com. Like other media companies, we are constantly exploring ways to balance ways to bring more revenue to our journalism without driving readers away.

Would love to hear your ideas on this.

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Washington, D.C.: Are you going to read through and consider the questions that you are choosing not to post here? Will you be chatting again soon?

Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: We have tried to answer questions on most of the subjects. We plan to chat fairly regularly as it is a good way for readers to express their concerns and offer ideas and for us to better explain our decisions. Stay tuned.

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Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd: Looks like we have run out of time. Looking forward to chatting again soon. Now off to the newsroom as Tuesday's paper beckons.

Liz and Raju

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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