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Ask the Post: Executive Editor Takes Your Questions

Marcus Brauchli
Washington Post Executive Editor
Monday, April 20, 2009 12:00 PM

Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli was online Monday, April 20 at 12 p.m. ET to take questions about both the newspaper and Web site. He also addressed questions about the current state of the news industry.

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Marcus Brauchli: Good afternoon. Many thanks for all the questions. Let's get started.

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Fairfax, Va.: When can we expect a redesign for the website?

Marcus Brauchli: Thanks for the question. We're constantly evaluating the site and how it serves and resonates with readers. We've had a couple of terrific design consultants working with us as we think about new and different approaches we should consider. You'll see changes to the site in coming weeks and months.

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Lynchburg, Va.: For someone whose child is about to go to college, what is the future of print journalism with newspapers closing everyday? Does 'multimedia' journalism have more future?

Marcus Brauchli: There's huge anxiety about newspapers and magazines and our business model. But your question gets at the more important question: What is the future of journalism?

The practice of modern journalism -- identifying matters of importance, gathering information, presenting facts in a balanced and contextual way, honoring the truth and believing in fairness -- is what is vital. If a city loses its newspaper, will it be replaced by a new entity that practices journalism as we know it?

Not surprisingly, I believe journalism has a bright future. In an era when information drives so much of our society and economy, journalism plays a central role. What we don't know is the form it will take, the medium. But the need to educate young journalists is as great as ever.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why is there more news of Maryland in the paper than there is news of Virginia? Some days there are as few as one or two Virginia stories in the Metro section.

Marcus Brauchli: We're committed to close coverage of Virginia, Maryland and the District, and we have a lot of reporters dedicated to all three jurisdictions. I haven't done an analysis to see if we're overplaying Maryland relative to Virginia, but we certainly don't intend to. With the rapid economic and population growth of the Virginia suburbs and exurbs, it's a huge story for us.

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Metro D.C.: I have to say I really don't like where the Business section/page is located now. It seems out of place. I know there are new headers on pages, like Business, World, Federal Interest, etc. but this doesn't seem to work well. And I think the Post has shrunk in size again, am I wrong?

Marcus Brauchli: I'm sorry you don't like the new arrangement. When we made the decision to take the stock-market statistics out of the daily newspaper (we still run listings on Sundays), we felt it made more sense to integrate our coverage of the economy and business into the A section. National, Foreign and Business news are tightly intertwined in any case, and the flow made sense to us. It also made it easier for us to create more space for business news on days when there's a lot to report, which is a pretty regular occurrence.

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Music reviews: Mr. Brauchli, what is the rationale for moving so many of the classical music reviews out of the Style section and onto the Internet? Was there not something else -- something less substantive, like the gossip column or the latest Seinfeldian Style Story About Nothing, such as the big Britney Spears review that ran in Style -- that could have been pushed out of the print pages, instead? Although my son tells me that the popular music reviews are disappearing from Style, too. What is the rationale here?

Marcus Brauchli: We're not targeting classical-music reviews. The Post has some terrific critics, and Anne Midgette, our classical writer, is superb. But we think a review of any event, classical or pop, that readers can't go to see because it's already passed requires less space in the newspaper. That's not to say we don't value reviews. Ideally, when we can review a production at the start of a run, we will do that and feature it prominently. And if we write a review of an event that is over, we may get something short into the paper and something longer online. We think The Post should be a central part of the local culture and arts scene.

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Boston: Are there some sections of the newspaper that are harder to substitute online and, therefore, help keep the paper edition afloat? In Boston, the Globe Sports section is pretty popular and something not easily replicated online with the various pictures, box scores, graphics all integrated well on paper. The straight news stories (the Globe, Post and NYT) I get online.

Marcus Brauchli: Good question. We've spent a great deal of time thinking about how people consume news in print and online. Older readers, who tend to be newspaper readers, still get much of their news from the paper. Younger readers, who tend to be online or using mobile devices for news, get more of their information digitally.

The question might be, what's the tipping point at which a print reader abandons the newspaper in favor of online?

We don't exactly know, but we do know that even the readership patterns of longtime print readers are changing. We need to be attentive. Loyal print readers appreciate the context and depth of longer-form stories. They want to know more than merely what happened yesterday. There's enough ambient information, thanks to TV and the Internet, that they know that. They want perspective and analysis.

So, I'm not sure we think there are certain sections that are harder to substitute online. But throughout our print and online editions we need to be thinking about how we can best serve those different audiences.

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Judge Parker tantrums: Can I ask about the logic of bringing back Judge Parker? I read the article online (or in print, I forget) -- but it seems like you only did it to appease the crybabies that threw a fit when it disappeared. Would you have done the same for Zippy fans? What about the shrinking of the comics page, which I don't even read anymore since everything's all squished together? If I get enough other fussy people to join me in deluging the phones and comments fields, will we get our way too?

Marcus Brauchli: When we made the decision to drop Judge Parker from the print edition (it's remained available, along with other comics that are in the paper and many that aren't, here), we did so based on readership data that suggested it wasn't as widely read as other comics that we kept.

That may have been true, but perhaps because JP is a serial comic, more of a soap opera than a daily giggle, its readership was intensely loyal.

Why give in? Because any newspaper is a collection of content that serves and satisfies many different readers for many different reasons. We can't be all things to all people, but we can try to reward the intense loyalty of readers who care passionately about something.

Some will now ask whether, if more people had kicked up a bigger storm about the elimination of Book World or the stock-market agate, we would have restored those sections. The answer is no. When we restored Judge Parker, we shifted another comic to Kids' Post so we wouldn't have to add to the amount of newsprint we use every day. To restore bigger cuts would defeat the economic purpose behind them.

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Bethesda, Md.: Do you see the new model journalist as a reporter, editor, blogger, photographer, and video artist all rolled into one? The problem with the Jack-of-all-trades model is that he may become a master of none.

Marcus Brauchli: "Journalist" is kind of like "doctor." Just as there are radiologists, surgeons, psychiatrists and general practitioners, we have investigative journalists, photojournalists, copyeditors, bloggers, and so on. They all do different things. Few people do it all or even in the entire length of a career have done it all.

That said, there may be some merit in equipping reporters with cameras, both still and video, and using some of that content when we don't have professional photographers along.

Where it makes sense, we're not averse to letting people extend their terrain. Some of our top journalists write terrific blogs (see Chris Cillizza's Daily Fix on politics, or Howard Kurtz's Media Notes), and still produce fabulous long-form journalism. Our investigative unit has its own section of the site, which shows that they can do both the best in long-form journalism and do aggregation, blogging and other digital journalism.

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Washington, D.C.: This is really more of a comment, but I wanted to say that I have enjoyed the integrated maps of late. It's such an easy way to see so much data. Can we expect more in the future?

Marcus Brauchli: Thanks! Yes, we're doing a lot of innovation in ways to deliver information graphically and digitally. Our "Time Space" feature online is just one of many ideas we're experimenting with to offer readers fresh ways of seeing and understanding the news.

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Washington, D.C.: Are you concerned by how few women op-ed columnists and Metro columnists there are? Any plans to change that? XX Files is fun, but not serious.

Marcus Brauchli: Yes, that's an issue we're aware of and plan to address soon.

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Washington, D.C.: Who is ultimately responsible for the choice and quality of op-eds you publish, and how do we register an opinion regarding them outside of letters to the editor (which are always ignored)? The ombudsman says the op-ed page is not his responsibility.

Marcus Brauchli: The editor of the editorial page, Fred Hiatt, is responsible for the opinion pages of The Post, including the op-eds. Someone reviews every letter to the editor and, while we can't publish or respond to them all, we look for those that capture the sentiments or points expressed by others.

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Bethesda, Md.: I canceled my Post subscription last week, having been a subscriber since 1989. I realized a few months ago that I was primarily reading the Post online, and often the paper went from my driveway directly into the paper recycling bin. I inquired at the Post if I could essentially just contribute my subscription fee without receiving the paper and was told no. I don't want to be a freeloader -- but I also don't want to be environmentally irresponsible. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way -- and I'm puzzled why, with newspaper revenue shrinking so much, the Post is unwilling to take my money unless I take the physical paper.

Marcus Brauchli: Many thanks for the note. Sorry to hear that you have canceled the print paper. There's no question that the environmental consequences of printing and distributing a newspaper are much greater than disseminating the same information digitally.

We don't consider you a freeloader at all, though. The Post sells advertising opposite its content online, so we continue to benefit by your loyalty, for which many thanks.

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Marcus Brauchli: Thank you all for participating today. Sorry we didn't have a chance to answer all the questions. I will read them and assure you they will inform us.

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