Ask the Post: Managing Editors Take Your Questions

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Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti
Washington Post Executive Editor
Monday, September 28, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's managing editors, Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti, were online Monday, Sept. 28 at noon ET to take questions about both the newspaper and Web site, as well as the current state of the news industry.

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Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thank you for joining us in our monthly chat. We are looking forward to answering your questions about the Post and its journalism. Liz and Raju

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Philly: Go to philly.com. Please do not become philly.com. I am grateful that the window-wide advertising coloring (and live link!) is not also site-wide, but you're just going to train users to do whatever they can do to avoid the homepage and lose a majorly important traffic driver for the rest of your site. I've always loved the washingtonpost.com homepage and even through redesigns that did things like make discussions less prominent (this is the site's best feature, play it up!), came to enjoy it. But these flashy, loud colors? Thank goodness for bookmarks and RSS feeds.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We believe our homepage and our online brand are both very critical for our traffic and while we have to balance the needs of advertising and audiences, we won't do anything on our homepage that will drive away traffic.

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Reston, Va.: Why can't the Post offer discounts for long term subscriptions paid in advance like magazines. Home delivery rates are now $4.44 a week whether you subscribe for eight weeks or two years. Give me a discount that betters a CD rate and you get the money upfront. We both save on bookkeeping and postage too!

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks for the suggestion. We will forward it to our Circulation Marketing department to see if they have any plans for such long term discounts.

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King George, VA: A number of my friends and I (almost all of whom have backgrounds that include experience in the news/newspaper business as well as copy editing) have often remarked lately on the disparity between the dead-tree Post and the online Post. The quality of editing, copy editing and headline writing in the dead-tree version is still pretty high despite all the buyouts and downsizing. The quality of copy editing and headline writing in the online version, by contrast, are both abysmally bad as well as embarrassing. Your photo captions are especially bad in the online version, so much so that I believe the people whose job it is to do such work have no journalism training, just composition and Web page construction skills. To them "content" is simply "stuff" to be poured into designated holes in the Web page.

The disparity is so wide and so noticeable it is almost as if there are two entirely separate organizations run by two completely different management teams, one of which is pretty good and one of which is awful. We cannot believe this disparity goes unnoticed by upper management. Do you folks ever discuss this? Is there any move afoot to address it and perhaps rectify it?

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: As you might have read, we are in the process of integrating our print and online newsrooms. The web has certain limitations and challenges in terms of how quickly we need to post articles. While we always have the same standards when it comes to accuracy, sometimes the speed at which news needs to be online can result in the occasional typo or a caption that isn't perfect. We are hoping that our integration will also help even out any disparities between print and online. Do continue to flag us to any errors that you see online at washingtonpost.com as we can also fix them fairly immediately.

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Washington, D.C.: Will the Book World pull out on Sundays ever return?

Please return "NFL Gameday" in the Sports page on Mondays. Gives a nice roundup of the games played on Sunday.

Thanks

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We are unlikely to have a separate Book World section on Sundays but will continue to have book reviews in the Outlook section as well as reviews throughout the week in Style.
We will also flag Matt Vita, our sports editor, about your
NFL Gameday suggestion.

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Washington, DC: Marcus Brauchli says the Post needs to be more responsive to conservatives. How do you reconcile that with the paper's coverage of the 2000 election (which savaged Al Gore, often dishonestly) and the run-up to the Iraq war? Or the paper's obsession with Whitewater and other Clinton "scandals"?

When you all talk about Republican claims that the Post is a "liberal" paper, does anyone ever point out that the Post's handling of some of the biggest stories in recent decades directly undermines those claims -- and, indeed, suggests you've been overly kind to conservatives and hard on liberals?

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We get complaints from both liberals and conservatives on our coverage--often on the same story--accusing us of being one or the other. That's one anecdotal indicator that we are not representing any one side in our news coverage. The goal of our more analytical pieces is to help frame issues for our readers but not to be ideological, unlike for our columnists who have views. As part of our redesign, we are going to also more clearly identify our columnists/columns in the paper to avoid any confusion among some readers.

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New York, NY: So where are you going to get the money to run this business?

Much of the money you used to rely on has gone away. Subscription revenue is attenuated by people reading news free online. Advertisers have folded or moved to other ways of publicizing their products. And I don't see any mainstream publications doing a good job of developing new forms of revenue; think about the hideous disaster with your "salons."

The Post is a business, not a public service, and a business only works if it's profitable. Never mind "quality journalism." With declining subscriptions and disappearing advertising, where does the money come from?

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: The Washington Post remains part of a very healthy, publicly traded company that has diverse businesses. Like all newspapers, we are facing a difficult economic environment and have had to make some tough choices, including in our newsroom. But we continue to fund our news gathering and reporting efforts even as we look for new models/sources of revenue. The Post continues to be read by hundreds of thousands of readers every day and actually hasn't seen the kinds of readership declines that other major papers have seen in the past couple of years. We believe as long as our newsroom continues to provide timely and relevant news and information, our business side will find good ways to monetize the content.

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Bethesda, Md.: PLEASE rehire some of your copy editors.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We still think we have a terrific copydesk at The Post and as we integrate our print and online staff, we will have the resources we need to publish a quality product in print and online. Incidentally, the copy desk continues to hire and just last week there was a posting for a couple of jobs.

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Tampa, Fla.: Please make sure your website works on all browsers, not just Microsoft's Internet Explorer. I've been trying out Opera on a Mac, and have been experiencing real problems with pages loading, especially for comments.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks for flagging this. We will pass it on to our tools/tech team as the site ought to work on Opera as well.

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Princeton, NJ: I read the Post online every day. I want to pay for it. If you think a monthly fee won't work, why not a button on each article so that the reader could voluntarily show his appreciation for that article by sending, say $.25 each time his pushed it and entered his password.? This would also show you what's popular.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks for that and we are glad you think the Post content online is worth paying for. We do too. There are, however, significant hurdles to forcing everyone to pay for content online. Our business side continues to explore all options on this front.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: The NY Times recently announced that it has assigned an editor to monitor Internet opinion sites in light of the Times being late to many stories broken by conservative web sites. Since the Post also has a history of ignoring internet and talk radio-driven stories (see Edwards's love child to Van Jones and ACORN) that reflect negatively on liberal/Democrats, will the Post take any steps to report on such stories, or should its readers expect to hear about the next such story a week after the fact?

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We don't think a specific editor or reporter should be responsible for monitoring various web sites but that this ought to be part of what any beat reporter's responsibility. We are aware that we can do better in this area, particularly in terms of conservative web sites as clearly noted by our Executive Editor earlier this month.

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"We get complaints from both liberals and conservatives on our coverage": Isn't that a classic cop-out? Wouldn't it be better to examine the validity of each complaint rather than write-it off as "we got six complaints from conservatives and six complaints from liberals so we must be doing a good job?"

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We didn't say we don't examine each complaint...we do and quite closely. What we were trying to say was that often we hear from both sides on the same story, calling us either liberal or conservative.

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Florida chick: the Wash Post was way too lenient on the "Fix" and company for comparing HRC to "mad b----" beer. The "well they are edgy and just pushed a bit too far" was disingenuous at best. A winking guffaw at worst.

Had they managed to slide in a vile reference to, say, Mormonism or Judaism, on behalf of Romney or Lieberman, I doubt the tepid response would be the same. Heaven forbid a racial slur would have been shrugged off, had it slid past your dwindling desk.

I want more info on this, aside from "we pulled the video series." Sure looks to me like the Post was unconcerned about hate speech toward women.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: That we were concerned was why Masterpiece Theater was killed. It is not always easy to get humor right and on this one, we clearly failed. Both Dana and Chris, who did the show, are terrific journalists. But we all agreed that the episode was a misstep and that is why the show ended. We don't like hate speech, period.

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New York, NY: I don't think you answered my question. I agree that the Post has millions of faithful readers. I'm asking where the revenue will come from, not where the readership will come from. "We have faith" isn't much of a business plan unless you're a church.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We believe revenue will continue to come from being a dominant vehicle, if you will, to deliver advertising in our region, supplemented by circulation revenue. Online, we do generate significant advertising revenue and have to figure out how to generate significant "circulation" revenue, if you will, for our content. Plus The Post is part of a very healthy company that has other sources of revenue. While we believe that The Post has to stand on its own legs--and we think it will--during difficult economic slowdowns, we can draw on the financial strength of our larger enterprise.

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Alexandria VA: I am also on on-line reader. Would gladly pay $10 a month, or say, $100 a year if you wanted to offer a discount, for a subscription. Would not pay .25 per article because I reconcile my charge purchases and it would drive me buggy having a whole bunch of tiny charges. I don't know how you break through the "content wants to be free" mentality, but good luck with it.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks. We will keep trying even if we aren't likely to be the first ones to insist all our readers online have to pay to read our content. Audiences seem more comfortable paying for content on mobile or ereaders. Perhaps that could be one way to start breaking through the "content wants to be free" mentality.

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Columbia, Md.: In a recent column, the Ombudsman for this paper called for more ideological diversity in the newsroom. As managing editors, what do each of you do to ensure that this diversity exists. Do you try to have an equal number of liberal and conservative editors and reporters? If not, why not?

washingtonpost.com: Wrongly Deaf to Right-Wing Media?

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We don't ask our news staff to disclose their political or ideological views, especially when we recruit. But we do expect and insist they don't show their views and biases in what they write for The Post. Our news staff is not allowed to participate in political activities either for that same reason. The goal isn't political diversity in our newsroom but a clear balance in our coverage and that is where most of our efforts go.

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Alexandria VA: I mostly read the paper on-line, buying it only on Saturday (for Real Estate) and Sunday (for all the features). Sometimes I buy a weekday edition.

This has nothing to do with the perceived value of the print edition, and everything to do with the delivery system. When I had it delivered, on nice days it was convenient. On rainy or snowy days, the deliveryman always tossed it on the sloping sidewalk with the open end of the plastic bag facing uphill, so the paper was a soggy unreadable mess by the time I got it. Plus, when we traveled, it was impossible to get the deliveries STOPPED. I did not want a stack of unread papers advertising our absence, but this happened every single time, despite our giving timely notice.

Finally we quit subscribing. So my question: how much are delivery operations integrated into sales and marketing? This is where the paper really falls short, and it doesn't have to be that way.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We are sorry about your experience. With so many delivery routes and hundreds of thousands of papers delivered each day, there are always going to be some issues with the physical delivery. What our Circulation Department does try and do is to resolve such complaints quickly and avoid them becoming chronic issues.
Want to give us one more shot and see if our Circulation Department can't make this right? If you want to, drop me an email (narisettir@washpost.com) and we will make sure you end up being a satisfied home delivery customer of The Post. Promise.

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RE: Ombudsman: Do you find it odd that in a column and a blog post calling for ideological diversity in the newsroom, the Post's Ombudsman omitted any progressive critique of the Post? That is, in calling for ideological diversity, he gave attention to only conservative complaints?

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: The Ombudsman is independent of the newsroom and is free to express any opinion/view on our news operations. We can't speak for him but will flag this to his attention.

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Formerly Alexandria: Can you explain how the NY Times can support nation-wide circulation (more or less). I assume that they are not taking a huge loss, and are able to utilize advertising that is regionally appropriate. If they can do it, why can't the Washington Post do it too? Do you at the Post consider yourselves in the same league as the Times (I certainly do)? If so, why can't you also be nationally competitive?

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Our strategy is to be For And About Washington, in print and online. We have a clear local market for our printed paper that we focus on. Online we have significant audience that isn't from the same geographical footprint. Because we are the dominant paper in Washington, our coverage is nationally relevant and competitive. But as a business strategy, we don't intend to circulate our newspaper beyond our local market. We can't speak for NYT's strategy or the financial success of that strategy.

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Chats: I don't mean to rant, but the number/quality of the live chats has decreased significantly in the past several years. I used to be able to rely on at least one chat to get me through each workday, and now I'm lucky if there's two transcripts I want to scroll through at the end of the week. I guess I have two questions:

1) I know many qualified reporters left during the buyouts, but shouldn't newspapers be amplifying/improving their online presence? So why the fewer chats with less helpful "experts"?

2) Is there a Web Producer or similar to whom I could address my concerns about specific chats? This doesn't seem to be the place to name names.

Thanks.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We continue to do a significant number of chats online with our staff, perhaps the most by any major newspaper. We are constantly evaluating chats based on audience participation and what is topical. Improving our online presence is an ongoing effort and if there are specific topics that would you like us to have chats/discussions about, please do let us know by sending either liz (spaydl@washpost.com) or raju (narisettir@washpost.com) an email.

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Alexandria, VA: Is the newspaper's new social media policy unnecessarily restrictive? Isn't this a case of management that doesn't understand social media overreacting after seeing Raju Narisetti's tweets?

My worry is that instead of the give-and-take that followers are used to having with Post reporters like Rick Maese, HowardKurtz, and Dan Steinberg, we'll just get bland links to articles without any of the interaction and commentary that is the real value of a service like Twitter.

Followers of ABC's Jake Tapper and the New York Times' David Carr on Twitter benefit from their employers' common-sense approach to social media. Why does the Washington Post feel there's a need for a restrictive written policy?

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We had been discussing coming up with guidelines for several months so that our staff is on the same page in terms of using social networks. These guidelines will continue to evolve as new technologies continue to emerge and become popular. The guidelines we have announced seem to make sense for now.

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paying for content: I don't think you've really acknowledged what some readers are saying to you. They would pay for an online subscription, if they could. This has nothing to do with forcing all readers to pay. TWP should have an option at least, for those who want to pay for the content. Right now, there is no mechanism for that.

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Fair enough. But before we do that, we want to be clear that the advantages of charging (even for those few who want to pay to help us) outweigh free access. Right now, we think the site and all its content ought to be free. Doesn't mean it will stay that way in the future.

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Your employees: Since you obviously won't be tweeting about it, can you tell us here what you think of the new social media rules?

Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: in 160 characters or less? :-)

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Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thank you for joining us on the chat. See you next month. Liz and Raju

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