The New Washington Post Magazine

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Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud
Editor and Art Director
Monday, September 28, 2009; 11:00 AM

The Washington Post Magazine debuted its redesign in its Sept. 27 issue. Editor Debra Leithauser and Art Director Janet Michaud took questions and comments about the changes, including new features and a new look in print, on Monday, Sept. 28.

Editor's Note

Read the stories from the Sept. 27 issue

The transcript is below.

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Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Hi, and welcome to our chat. We heard from a lot of readers this weekend -- some who loved the changes, some who didn't. And now we're looking forward to hearing what you think. Did you find the Michelle Rhee story compelling? What new features did you or didn't you like? What stories do you hope we cover in the future? We're listening...

Debra and Janet

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Silver Spring, Md.: Debra, Janet: Congratulations on your new roles. I know you put a lot of effort into this new version of the magazine. So, I hate to complain. But I really have to ask: How did you come out with some of those fonts and did you test them with readers ahead of time? The magazine has always been one of my Sunday faves, but the bold serif headlines were jarring and hard to read, I nearly missed Date Lab because the label was hidden and the light gray vertical text in the chart about the date lab participants was nearly illegible.

And while I, too, am a parent of two young children, I like the lengthier pieces that the magazine usually offers me... the kind of in depth coverage the paper can't give elsewhere.

On the good side, I loved that you used the photo of Michelle Rhee that she liked and that you explained that it was the one that Time had left on the chopping floor. It was gutsy of you.

I know it's doubtful, but I hope you'll reconsider some of these changes.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thanks for the congrats! We appreciate it.

We did do reader testing on fonts, and the body copy is actually a bit bigger than it was, which we hoped would improve readability. We are looking at the light gray, which didn't reproduce as well as we'd hoped. Look for a darker version in a few weeks. (We produce the magazine in advance, so it will take us a few weeks to incorporate reader suggestions.)

Also, we definitely will still have the in-depth articles the magazine is known for. Michelle Rhee was a good example of that, I think. And I'm so glad to hear you liked the cover image of Rhee. There was a lot of conversation in the building about it.

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Curious: about the decision to reprint bits of a blog (doublex) on paper, especially in a magazine with a few weeks' turnaround time. It didn't seem like a particularly fascinating slice of the blog. I can see the cons of this decision--the limitations of blog plus the limitations of print--but what are the pros, exactly?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Double X isn't a reprint -- the writers at Double X write their thoughts for the magazine, and then readers can go online to continue the conversation if they want. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

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Chevy Chase: I am a young busy mom, one who likes to read interesting and engaging stories, and I fail to understand why a feature about an outdoor mall in Bethesda and what I can buy there is worthy of space in The Washington Post Magazine. I also have to admit that when I first saw these pages, I almost dismissed them as advertising until I looked again. Is this an intentional effect?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: This feature is one the Post has had for years in Style on Thursdays -- it just has now moved to the magazine. We'll be covering fashion and beauty in this space weekly. We will not just be featuring local stores (though we always like to use local sources when we can) but also touting trends and how to pull of the look at various price points (we love H&M as much as Nordstrom). Looking like an ad certainly isn't what we were going for.

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Columbia, MD: Sorry, but the new magazine layout is a miss, not a hit. The typography does not look clean and sophisticated as Ms. Leithauser said. It looks old fashioned. I do like the fact that you have shorter articles, but the look is a step backward.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Hi, and thanks for your comment. The typography is a mix of old and new, and when combined we feel that it is actually more modern and sophisticated. Change takes time to get used to -- give us a few weeks and then let us know if you still find it jarring. Some readers have said they love the new look.

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Sykesville, MD: I didn't read the Michelle Rhee story because I felt it was still too lengthy. Maybe if it was an article that REALLY struck me I would have, but doubt it.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thanks for writing. Your note is proof that you can't please everyone -- some readers have said it wasn't long enough!

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Kensington, MD: Luv the Rdrs Dgst lk. Fts rit in w/r attn span. By by.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thx!

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Arlington, VA: I hate to say this, as I usually love all things Washington Post, but I really don't like the new Magazine. From the abbreviated stories to the layout, title graphics, and artwork... I just don't think it was an improvement. The format would probably be okay online, but it looks silly in print. What was the impetus for the overhaul?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thanks so much for writing, and I'm sorry you're not happy with the changes in the magazine. The impetus for the overhaul was that readers had told us what they loved and what they didn't, and we listened. I hope you will give us a few Sundays to get used to our new look.

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Sykesville, MD: I'm not sure if it's that I'm used to the old format of "Date Lab", but I liked the old format better. Is the new format set in stone?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: We know that Date Lab is one of readers' favorite features. All the elements are the same, just in a different format. We tried to actually give it more room and better placement in the magazine. This Sunday, you'll see it actually gets a page and a half.

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Silver Spring, MD: I notice that as you all are doing this chat, AOL just has posted the story about the quadruple amputee that your publisher thought was too depressing. Thoughts?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Neither one of us was on staff when that decision was made. We get our editorial direction from our editors (that would be Raju and Marcus). They clearly have vision for this magazine, as do we.

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Gaithersburg, MD: Finally - a "magazine" that I can relate to. Thank you for making this section of the paper, one that I will look forward seeing each week. Love the new look, love the new content blended with the old. Looking forward to next Sunday....

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thank you! We worked hard on getting the mix of old and new right. Next Sunday the cover story is on Chuck Brown. We'll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts on that issue as well.

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Remington, Virginia: The story on Michelle Rhee actually DOES say more than it thinks it does in the first few paragraphs. It points out that she went to an elite private school and was a star student there. This means she has never had the experience of a public school, and has NO IDEA what the kids go through every day. Also, having been a star student, she has no concept of what it's like to have to get through a subject you just plain stink at. Especially when you can't afford to flunk it!

All in all just another elitist who thinks she knows what's "good for" the rest of us! Completely delusional!

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thanks for your observation about the story. You should watch the two On Leadership videos with Rhee as well. They are quite illuminating about her and her viewpoints.

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washingtonpost.com: On Leadership Videos: Michelle Rhee on 'Extreme Candor' and Rhee on Teachers Unions

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Washington, D.C.: The contents seemed ... scattered about somehow. I could lose the "trends" bit -- I can't afford to buy the stuff, not in this economy anyway. I miss the XX Files column; Double X is a poor substitute. And are all the main feature articles going to be "upbeat" and not hard-hitting?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: The main features won't always be upbeat. What we're going for is a good mix of stories week to week. And Trend Report, we have to say, does have a variety of price points -- $7 plates are pretty good, we'd say.

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Rockville, Md.: I was so sad to see the XX Files go! Along with Date Lab, it was the first page I turned to each week, and one of the main reasons I still read the magazine on weeks when the cover story didn't interest me. Was getting rid of it an editorial move, or based purely on finances? If it was the former, I would urge you to reconsider; its intended replacement (the double x section) can't possibly compete with these engaging essays.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thanks for your note. We decided to end XX Files because we found the feature uneven week to week; it was purely an editorial decision. Some weeks, it was an amazing personal essay. Other weeks, it fell a bit short. We also felt that the themes being written about were being repeated.

We do hope to have an annual XX issue and certainly will still run personal essays in the magazine, just not on a weekly basis.

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Washington, DC: What are your feelings towards the magazine's responsibility towards journalism vs. entertainment? It seems like a lot of the magazine's cover stories, while thought-provoking, are also really depressing, and so I usually don't bother reading them. Any chance of seeing some lighter stuff? For example, I'm not into video games, but one of the most interesting and fun cover stories the Washington City Paper ever did was about a professional Madden player.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: The magazine has done dark stories, no doubt. But it also, even in the past, did lighter fare. We will continue that mix, but we will have more profiles on interesting Washingtonians. As for video games, we did a piece about a Donkey Kong player about a year ago in fact. You should check it out.

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Washington, DC: I have to say as much as I love the new design of the WP Mag., I really miss the "XX files." It's a shame that in the redesign, this thought-provoking, interesting weekly contribution of aspects of life from a female perspective couldn't make the transition. I, for one, will miss it.

washingtonpost.com: XX Files Archvie

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thanks. We've heard more about XX Files than the other features we lost. Here's a link to the archive, and we'll still have personal essays in the mag, promise!

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washingtonpost.com: Over a Barrel (Post Magazine, Nov. 9, 2008)

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VA: Just realized the "Tell Us About a Time when something didn't happen as you expected" question wasn't there. I loved that! Guess you must've heard in the past from a lot of people who didn't love it, though. :-(

washingtonpost.com: Editor's Query Archive

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: I also liked this feature but thought it had run its course. Thanks for sharing your views.

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Thornburg, VA: My question is less about the "new" magazine, and more just about the magazine in general: why is the lead time so long? Sometimes when a reporter is doing the Monday chat about their piece that ran in the previous day's magazine, they note that the deadline was something like 3 weeks prior. Why does it take so long to produce the magazine? Newsweek et al manage to get out a bigger issue to a wider distribution in a week.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Oh, the reasons for this are many. We can't print it on our presses, it is packaged with preprints. ... But rest assured, we do look at all ways to improve this deadline and if we can change it, we will.

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Annandale, VA: Also wondering if you could say a bit more about the revisioning process. How do you imagine your ideal/average reader?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Rethinking the magazine was part of a larger process that looked at the entire paper. We did poll current subscribers and used that feedback every step of the way. I think my ideal reader is just one who likes to read -- that's ultimately what we all want: Good stories told in engaging ways.

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Rockville, MD: As an avid Magazine reader, I was pleased that I didn't automatically dislike the changes, as has been the case with earlier redesigns. But please keep the long, in-depth articles coming. I'm always very disappointed on any Sunday when I can read the entire thing in 30 minutes because there's nothing to really sink my teeth into. Thanks for your hard work.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: We'll do our best! Thanks for the comments.

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Charlottesville, VA: The redesigned magazine, shorter and flashier, might as well be PARADE. I expect better from The Post.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: But it seems many disagree. :)

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Bethesda, MD: I was not sorry to see XX files go - or, as my husband put it "the articles that always seemed to be written by angry or sad women." Although I enjoyed it when it first started, I agree that it seemed to have run its course.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: More thoughts on XX Files...

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University Park, MD: I notice that you're not printing the extremely negative comments that I'm sure you're getting if the 15 comments on the on-line Post in response to "Editor's comments" are any indication.

Everyone is saying the same thing--too hard to read; confusing different fonts--not sophisticated, but stupid; content can't visually be differentiated from ads; and an extraordinarily opinionated attitude on who your target audience is.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: C'mon. We're printing the negative comments. But there is a mix. Everyone isn't saying the same thing, but certainly people are speaking up about the fonts. Design is subjective; we expected people to have various reactions.

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Alexandria, VA: I found the article about Michelle Rhee somewhat irritating, just like Rhee herself! But it was good to see Marc Fischer back in print. I hope you'll be able to continue to draw on his talents.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Marc is terrific and I'd welcome his byline anytime!

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DC: I have been reading comments within a group of art directors and designers that have been less that enthusiastic about the redesign. It seems like you are choosing only positive comments for this chat. Nice!

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Again, design is subjective. The thinking was that in the front of the magazine we'd give a variety of long and short pieces. The longer stories would be clean reads without jumps, if at all possible. They'd also feature strong photography. The back of the book is for entertainment -- where to go out, where to dine, puzzles and Gene.

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Potomac, MD: Everything new takes some getting used to, so I hope you'll check back again in a couple months.

But I did want to tell you, the Where Are They Now? update made my day. I still smiling whenever I think about it.

Do you have any idea where David is ushering at Nats Stadium? I'd like to stop by sometime and say Hi!

washingtonpost.com: Riding High (Whatever Happened To ..., Sept. 27)

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: So nice! Thank you. Can't say I know David's specific section. Just look for him playing air guitar if the Nats lose. :)

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Fairfax VA: Good Morning--

It is interesting that with all the comments you are receiving (many of them less than positive)that there are not responses that we give these some thought and possibly make some changes. It seems that most of your responses are "give it time and you will like it" or posting links to archives or other features.

This seems to mean that this is set in stone.

Thoughts?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: It's not set in stone, but I will say we haven't had an outpouring of outrage. The reaction has been mixed, which is about the best you can hope for when you're changing things for readers. We strongly believe in what we've created.

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Adams Morgan: Not to pile on with the criticism, but the entire magazine layout felt like those magazine advertisements that take a few seconds to realize that they are ads until you see the disclaimer. Also, does Michelle Rhee need another feature story? Can't help but feel her race and sex are more the reason than anything.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Rhee's race and sex had nothing to do with our decision to write that story. She's a leader in her field, trying to figure out a public school system. What she does -- or doesn't do -- is important to all of us.

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Arlington, VA: Wow, change is really hard for some people. Thanks WashPost for taking some risks.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thank you!

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McLean, VA: The magazine redesign missed the mark. Regarding content, it I want "easy reading" I will go online. I still enjoy newspapers and magazines because of the in depth opportunities they offer. Regarding design, well, where did the advertising stop and the editorial design begin? The abbreviated WP was eye pleasing, But headlines and text, hard to read, very, very dated and the eye doesn't flow. Sorry.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Sorry you feel this way, and thanks for sharing.

As far as the editorial looking like advertisements, we just don't agree. But we'll look at all the reader feedback -- just as we did all along during this process.

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Herndon, VA: Hi Janet and Debra

When I read about your new layout, I was certainly understandable about time and space. However, after looking through the magazine and reading it, I found it jarring and disjointed. It left me empty. I too am a mother of three and working full time. The magazine is my sanctuary. I ususally keep them months after many others have thrown them away. While I'm okay with what you did with Date Lab and a few other quick features, I'm not at all satisfied with the overall content. Too much on Rhee and not enough of much else. The fonts used and all the "bling" left me feeling empty.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Another reader weighs in...

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Washington, D.C.: As a 31-year-old D.C. resident, I think that the redesign definitely screams "I'm hip and modern!" New content (or reformulated content) like dining, shopping and the arts definitely make the magazine feel more tagged to D.C. But, as a graphic designer, I'm disappointed that the strong scholarly, intellectual (though simplistic) design was replaced by elements that feel more like a teen zine or any number of edgy, pop culture magazines you find on the racks at CVS. Ooh, and those italic uppercase drop caps ... yeesh.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: A very measured response of pros and cons. Thanks.

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Annandale, VA: Hello,

I'm an avid Post Magazine reader. I know it will take a few weeks to get used to the new look and features (missed XX files!). Were there a lot more advertisements, or just my imagination?

Thanks!

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thanks for giving us a few weeks.

And, yes, there were some more advertisers. I think it's great the Post is so committed to keeping a Sunday magazine.

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Rockville, Md.: lots of good pieces, particularly Marc Fisher's on Ms. Rhee. But it was not easy to determine the editorial from the advertising.

washingtonpost.com: In Search of the Real Michelle Rhee

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: We're hearing the edit vs. ad thing a lot. Agree on Rhee!

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Virginia Beach, VA: I've been a long time reader and always looked forward to the magazine but have to admit I do not like this new format. Mainly I find it chaotic and hard to decipher articles from advertisements. And I would have to agree, the fonts are a big part of that and the titles of sections like "First Person Singular, Date Lab, Whatever Happened to, Unspun do not stand out . (However, the content is great - just the getting to it.)

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: More from readers...

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Warrenton, Va: Where is Cul De Sac?!

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Cul de Sac has moved to Style and Arts. We had a little notice on Page 7, but you may have missed it.

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Washington, DC: Design Question:

The cover was a no-brainer, and seems to be exactly what the New York Times does in their Sunday magazine. Were you intentionally trying to copying them?

Also, agree with one of you initial posters. The times bold font (I'm assuming) for headlines is old looking, and appears all the same size. I couldn't tell when a story started or ended.

Lastly, as stated I went right past the date lab and totally missed it first time going through the magazine.

Think you need to roll up the sleeves, and get back to the drawing board on the redesign.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: We were not trying to copy the NYT; the image was the most honest of Rhee.

The font is actually Miller Text and is bigger than the old font.

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Luv the Rdrs Dgst lk. Fts rit in w/r attn span. By by: hope you realize that was an insult. Well deserved, I might add. the new magazine is awful.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: yeah, we got it.

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South Riding VA: The new look is no worse than the old look. That's the best I can summon after 1 issue. I'm just happy that the dining critic is still there, though I don't like all the empty white space that seems to surround his words.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: more...

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College Park, MD: Can you clarify who your, and the Post's, target audience is these days? You mention parents with young children, and that audience seems to have been mentioned on other occasions. Are those of us without kids at home, or without kids at all, not relevant?

While change is often a good thing, I didn't see anything in the redesign that I would consider an improvement. And my 49 y.o. eyes are too old to read the type. I'll miss the Magazine.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: I think the Post wants any and all readers, just like any publication would. The magazine has always been lucky to have high readership but there were things our readers said they wanted that we weren't giving them. We don't have a specific target audience in mind, per se. We know we have a broad audience of men, women, races and ages to appeal to.

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Silver Spring, MD: So you ended "XX Files because -you] found the feature uneven week to week." However, this was a substitute for finding a permanent female columist which I thought was in the works. So, I am assuming there is no hope of getting a permanent female columnist? If so, what a sad state of affairs. I'm disappointed and a subscriber.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: I'd love a permanent female columnist. I miss Jeanne Marie Laskas. Finding a new voice like that is on my dream list for the magazine. I hope I can make it a reality.

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Kalorama, DC: Another "no" vote. I appreciate you are trying for a younger demographic, but in doing so, you've created an Express-like monster which is neither fresh nor reader-friendly. Do we really need yet another place in the Post to find out what's happening around town? Please, admit it's a failure and show some respect for your loyal readers who appreciate more in-depth reporting and read the Magazine for several days after it's published. This new lite version took all of 10 minutes to read and left no positive impression whatsoever.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: I'm surprised that Rhee article took you 10 minutes and left you with no impression. Marc Fisher is an accomplished and insightful writer who had more time with Rhee than almost any other reporter.

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Odenton, MD: I am probably too late, but I wanted to say that the redesign of the WP magazine looks like someone in their late-50s tried to be hip and overdid it by a mile. Even calling it the WP magazine instead of the Washington Post magazine is a bit over the top. I think the style it lacks the sophisticated nature that it encompassed before. Content wise, the changes are fine. But the stylistic changes that were made are what stand out and make the magazine look like someone puked their idea of hip all over the pages.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thanks. Just for the record, we're both in our 30s. :)

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Berryville, VA: Hi Debra and Janet,

Love the new look and content. How do you decide which storylines to pursue?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Thanks for your question. A lot of factors go into the stories we pursue: How interesting a character the main subject will be, how much time that person will grant our reporter so he or she can get the whole picture, how big an issue something is to our readers. We really strive to find a great mix of stories week to week, from DC, Virgina and Maryland alike.

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chi-town: Sad that "Editor's Query" has disappeared. Loved those.

What exactly is the point of "Our Town?" I like Michael Cavna and his work with Comic Riffs, but I didn't really understand the point of the Our Town illustration. Was he actually there, drawing the sights? Is this what it will be every week? Because 1) I imagine it will get old after a few weeks, and 2) I think it would be better in photograph form. Cavna's artistic abilities would be better suited for some other feature...maybe a "Six Chix" type of arrangement with rotating artists but more comic-strippish.

washingtonpost.com: Our Town (Post Magazine, Sept. 27, 2009)

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: The point of Our Town is to capture a slice of life in the metro area, as told via artwork rather than a traditional story. And, yes, Cavna certainly was there.

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Alexandria, VA: There seems to be a lot of comments about the new look. I liked the new features but found the design took away from them and the magazine overall. Were readers involved in any design testing?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Yep, readers were involved.

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Franconia, VA: I am not a designer, but a reader. I was annoyed I could not easily distinguish ads from articles. Sometimes I couldn't find the first page of an article because I genuinely thought it was an ad. This is not a positive for readers and I don't think it helps your advertisers either in the long run. Please don't brush this off.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: No worries. We aren't brushing off any comments. But the openers for the layouts really didn't change from what they were. A big picture lead was always the way of the magazine.

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Northern Virginia: Gene W. has done some really impressive and fascinating articles in the Magazine, although I agree his weekly column is "entertainment" as you just described it. Would his brand of reportage still interest the magazine given the new "no depressing stories" philosophy? That whole incident was such a depressing one for the integrity of your product. I can't get it out of my mind when I try to be open to the new magazine.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: I've told Gene he can write the main feature stories any time he wants and have as much space as he wants. The man is a genius. Unfortunately, he's working on a bunch of other project right now, so he's just doing the column.

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Washington DC: I am new to the area having moved here from the Chicago area last winter. I am 32 years old and have purchased the Post intermittently here and there. I will certainly be getting the weekend paper on a more regular basis after seeing the magazine this past weekend.

I was at a party on Saturday and everyone was talking about the redesign of the magazine so I made sure to get it. Sure it looks cool, but I also found it to be much easier to read than earlier editions. The table of contents page clearly guided me to the articles I was interested in. I thought Michelle Rhee was a strong choice for the lead story too. You kept a lot of the cool stuff like Date Lab while adding a lot in terms of making it enjoyable to read. Overall, I thought the content, design and layout made it smooth, yet intriguing.

I'm sure that some of the tried and true old time readers may be uncomfortable with the changes, but you're winning over guys like me. Looking forward to see what's coming down the pike.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Another point of view... (and thanks!)

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washington, dc: I wonder why I bother subscribing anymore . . . + white space, - content. Poor choice. I appreciate the unexpected topics in WPM and hope that continues. Siestema and Date Lab are favorite staples and both seem to be truncated by a few col. inches in the sake of a cleaner format. Both are less than impressive now.

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: The new format for Sietsema's column is just a few lines shorter, but we've added art to the Ask Tom feature by the talented Ed Fottheringham and a sidebar that highlights some detail about the featured restaurant.

Date Lab gets more space next week...

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Hyattsville, MD: I am also the mother of a young child, but I'm not sure I agree with the redesign. I agree publications need freshening from time to time, but I thought the current design still worked. In your new design titles are difficult to locate, font selections are odd, as is the bright yellow color that appears throughout the pages. I'm curious, what was the make-up of your focus groups, were they comprised of both in-house and out-of-house participants and did you have a wide age range?

Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: Our focus groups are never in house, they're always with people not connected with the paper (other than some are readers). And yes, we had a wide age range.

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Debra Leithauser and Janet Michaud: We've gone over time so we must sign off. There were so many questions that we couldn't take; we're sorry about that. We typed as fast as we could and tried to post a balance of positive and negative questions. You can always reach us at wpmagazine@washpost.com.

Thanks,

Debra and Janet

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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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