Ask the Post: Sports Editor Takes Your Questions

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Matt Vita
Washington Post Sports Editor
Wednesday, October 21, 2009; 12:00 PM

Washington Post sports editor Matt Vita was online Wednesday, Oct. 21 to take questions about the newspaper and washingtonpost.com, as well as the current state of the news industry.

A transcript follows.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: I have read the Post for decades,and usually feel meh about new styles and formats - but I really like this one - well done, kudos!

Matt Vita: Hello everyone. I thought we'd start this chat on an upbeat note, so it's great to hear from readers of the Post who like the re-design. A lot of work went into it and I think it looks great. We welcome everyone's input.

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Fairfax, Va.: Redesigns are great and I do enjoy the new format. But I still find there's too much coverage of the Redskins and not enough of the Caps. Is this something on your radar to address?

Matt Vita: Another comment on the re-design. Thanks. As for the coverage of the Redskins vs. the Capitals. We hear a lot -- pro and con -- about the amount of space we devote to the Redskins. They are the biggest sports story in town, and we try to cover it thoroughly. As for the Caps, they are a terrific story, and one that we devote a considerable amount of energy covering. Just recall last spring's playoff drive. I think what's happening now is that it's still football season, so the Caps may seem to be getting less prominence. That will change as autumn turns to winter.

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Fairfax, Va.: Before we read that the Post had changed, both my husband and I noticed that the print was both smaller and lighter yestereday. Today the print was darker on the front page but still lighter throughout the rest of the paper. My husband uses bifocals; I don't. The paper was harder to read for both of us. The darker print on the front page this morning was helpful for me; my husband did not have time to read the front page today so the verdict is still out for him. We are in the demographic that still subscribes to the Post daily. When I went to the internet to send you an email, I noticed that now it is much easier for me to read the Post on the web than holding it in my hand. I used to like to snuggle up in bed with the paper in the morning. Now I have a little laptop I can snuggle with just as easily. Are you trying to send us seniors to the internet to read your paper? -- for free! My point is that the recent change to the Post could send your most faithful demographic of subscribers to read on the Web as the younger generation is already doing. Surely for you that is an unintended consequence.

I also have noted that you do not have a link for questions and comments to go to management which is what I intended to do when I came to your web site this morning. Since this area is for a public discussion, and my comments are subject to editing, will your management be informed of my opinion about the changes to the print in your newspaper?

Matt Vita: Thanks for your observation. One of the goals of the re-design was in fact to make the paper easier to read. The print may appear a bit "lighter," but I think if you compare it with the old version you might be surprised that it is cleaner and a bit easier on the eyes. We hope you continue getting the paper, in any event, AND enjoying the Post on-line as well! Senior editors will read your comment, I'm sure. Thanks again.

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Chicken or the Egg: Which comes first?

I wish that the Post's Sports section did a more balanced job of covering all four of the regions pro sports teams.

I've seen various Post editors and writers defend their choices to cover the Redskins ad nauseam, occasionally at the expense of the other pro teams. And the Post defends its choices by using web traffic and statistics to point out that readers to go the Redskins info.

Sure they do, I'm not likely to come to washingtonpost.com for Nats news, because most days, you guys don't have any. So, which will come first, the chicken or the egg?

Matt Vita: Thanks for your comment. While the Redskins do indeed receive a considerable amount of coverage, we provide terrific coverage of all the sports teams in D.C., including the Nationals.

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Washington, D.C.: The redesign is okay, I'll live. I understand that people, including myself, don't like change most of the time. However can you all please, please, please get rid of the way you are now numbering the pages? It's always been A1, not 1A. For some reason this is driving me up a wall.

Matt Vita: Other readers have noticed this change, as well. I'm not exactly sure why the switch was made. But I will say I think it's comforting to know that readers care enough about the Post that they notice something like this. I hope you can still find your way through the paper!

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Success or controversy: What is better for sports readership/clicks, a successful team or a good controversy even if the team is bad?

Matt Vita: A good story is always a good story.

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Washington, D.C.: The redesign is the worse redesign in the history of redesigns.

Who thought it was a bright idea to have people scroll through 20-plus inches (I measured because I was so disgusted) of "stuff" before you get to the news?

Is the idea not to have people read the paper online and have them buy?

My time is valuable and scrolling and scrolling is not the way I plan to spend my time.

Matt Vita: Thanks for sharing your opinion. I'm not sure exactly what you are speaking about, but one of the thoughts behind the new headline style was to give readers two or three separate bursts of information in case they want to quickly scan the paper and get a sense about whether they want to dive deeper into a particular story. If you are talking about anecdotal leads that don't get to the point quickly ... we try to achieve a balance there. I think most stories should get to the point right from the beginning. But in some cases, a slower, more literary beginning works better.

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Re: Success or controversy: Either I asked the question inartfully or you punted with your answer. How about this: do you sell more papers and get more clicks on Redskins stories after a win or a loss?

Matt Vita: Sorry. It seems to be about even.

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McLean, Va.: Hello Mr. Vita,

Why do Post sports editors continuously refuse to provide print subscribers/readers a weekly genuine, critical "Letters-to-the-Editor" space? This policy represents too many years-on exclusion of serious reader response to, and critique of, Post columnists, sports stories, and significant contemporary issues in sport/athletics.

Implement it now, eh?

Matt Vita: Thanks for your question. It's been the paper's policy for years that letters to the editor, on all subjects, go to the editor of the editorial page and are published on those pages. If you have a response or critique of a sports column or story, you should send it there.

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State College, Penn.: I have two questions. I read the Washington Post online and would be happy to pay a subscription fee for doing so. In the chats, a number of people have expressed a willingness to pay for the online content, but Post management just keeps saying that this isn't the business model and that they'll see what happens in the coming months.

I don't think that it's ever been a viable business model to give content/services/products away for free. Why are you all so reluctant to charge for your content?

On the web site, would it be possible to read articles on one whole page? I find it annoying to have to keep clicking to the next page -- I'd rather just keep scrolling down the page. I know The New Yorker Magazine offers this option. Multi-page articles just seems like unnecessary linking.

Thanks for all your hard work with the paper. We appreciate all you do to bring us the news.

Matt Vita: I don't have an answer for you since this is outside my department. But your ideas are interesting, and are shared by many people.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: What was behind the decision to remove the section listing results of area sports teams (i.e., of major leagues - NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, NCAA) on the front page? I really liked the left margin summary of scores and results. It was a quick read and provided a reference to any accompanying article.

In fact, I believe that I have not seen the result of a DC United game on the front page for weeks. Surely, somewhere in the front page filled with stories about NFL quarterbacks or the New York Yankees, you guys could include some small blurb about previous night's results for area teams ...

Matt Vita: Yes, we did stop listing scores on the front of the Sports page with the re-design. Except for Monday's paper, when we publish the NFL scores at the top of the page in the new navigation bar directing readers to stories inside the section. It was a judgement call.

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Leesburg, Va.: Matt,

I like the re-design, I just have one suggestion - get rid of the columnists pictures! We read the paper for a reason, we don't want to see most of their faces, esp. the sports columnists - yikes!

That said, if Erin Andrews ever guest pens a column for you, put as many pictures of her on there as you like.

Matt Vita: We thought you'd like to see what they look like! I guess not!

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Washington, D.C.: When Tracee Hamilton wrote her very personal column about being stalked last week, it did not appear in my print edition. It seemed not to appear in any print edition. It received many comments online, and even Tony Kornheiser talked about it on his show. Why would you deprive the print subscribers of such an item?

Matt Vita: Boy, I'm not sure what you are getting at. That column ran on the front of the Sports section in every edition. My biggest regret was that I didn't put it at the top of the page. In case you haven't read it, Tracee's column was about her being the victim of a stalker a long time ago. it was one of the most powerful, personal columns I have read in a long time, one that took a considerable amount of courage on Tracee's part to write. I hope readers across the country have been able to see it. I know she has received an overwhelming number of positive responses, from women and men.

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Cheverly, Md.: I think the poster complaining about the 20" of wasted space in the redesign was talking about the Post Web site, which is currently malfunctioning and making about two screens of text links before you get to the main content.

Regarding the dead tree edition, I'm reserving judgment on the latest changes, although they're not as godawful as the Magazine re-do.

Largely, though, it doesn't feel like I'm reading the Post, but an out-of-town local newspaper.

Matt Vita: Maybe this explains it then.

As for the re-design, stick with it. Hopefully you'll come to like it.

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Bethesda, Md.: Why was Tracy Hamilton's Oct. 14 column "A Fear That Can't Be Locked Away" put beneath the fold? My own thought is that it deserved a much more prominent place on the page.

washingtonpost.com: A Fear That Can't Be Locked Away (Washington Post, Oct. 14)

Matt Vita: I agree with you. I wish I had done that.

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Reston, Va.: Why does swimming have a special place and graphic on the Post's sports web page?

I think most people are interested in the Capitals, the Redskins, the Wizards, the Nationals and their leagues, golf, tennis, soccer.

So why give swimming such a standard spot? Is some swimming organization paying for placement? Is a sports editor a swimming fan?

Matt Vita: That spot refers swimming fans to an experimental web page we launched last summer on the local swimming scene. It also has stories from Amy Shipley, one of our reporters who is one of the top writers on swimming nationally. And this winter it will be the place to go for high school swimming results in the Washington area. Check it out.

(The sports editor likes swimming, but not any more than he likes a lot of other things.)

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Ijamsville, Md.: Will the Post be covering the annual Urbana vs. Linganore game? Linganore appears to be one of the best high school teams in the area. I understand that a decision was made with regard to the area that the Post would cover with respect to high school sports. How will you address the emergence of an apparently very good team that might fall out of your predetermined coverage in the future? Thank-you.

Matt Vita: I think that game is a couple weeks away, but we are planning on covering it. By the way, take a look at our new High School Weekend page on the website on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. We've increased the number of DC-area high school football games we are covering, and have added more game videos and photos.

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Alexandria, Va.: THANK YOU for your story on the Washington International Horse Show today. And by a real Washington Post reporter, not a stringer! I'm looking forward to more stories as the show gets under way.

Please have more coverage of horse events around here - Upperville, Va. for example, is the oldest horse show in America and has a Grand Prix every bit as grand as the one in the WIHS. And we have many Olympic riders who live and work in the area.Horses are big business and a huge interest in the Va./Md./D.C. area. Keep up the good work.

washingtonpost.com: Coles balances lacrosse with horseback riding (Washington Post, Oct. 21)

Matt Vita: Thanks. We try to provide as much horse coverage as we can, though I'm sure not as much as horse lovers would like.

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For one-page reader: You can click on "print" and simply scroll through as you read. The type face is a little bigger, and the story goes "wider", but it works.

I do this on my PDA too.

(p.s.- I think I like the new format too!)

Matt Vita: Just posting this for everyone's information ...

Thanks.

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washingtonpost.com: Complete Washington Post High School Sports coverage

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Re-design question: I've read that some of the thought behind the re-design was to make the paper more "scannable" because people "don't have time to read newspapers." But doesn't this thought go against the premise of newspapers? I would think that if the paper invests all those resources in reporting, editing, graphics, etc., you want people to actually read the stories, not scan them.

While I don't think the Post has dumbed down its coverage in pursuit of scanability, I do wonder if it becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy: a focus group says they don't have time to read, so we give them less to read, eventually, there are no readers.

Is there an effort at the Post to promote the culture of reading newspapers?

Matt Vita: This is another thoughtful question, that I'm just going to post for everyone to read. I would say that I believe many people scan for the headlines in the morning, and go back to read what they want at night, given everyone's busy schedules.

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washingtonpost.com: Reach for the Wall: Online swimming coverage from The Washington Post

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Alexandria, Va.: When I was in Boston in June one thing I liked about the Globe is that their sports page had a pretty thorough recap of all the playoff hockey series that were going on, even though the Bruins weren't even in it anymore. And that's what I don't like about the Post - if it's not about a local sports team, it's lucky if it gets a mention outside of a box score. With so many people hailing from different cities in this area, I would think the readership would support a sports page that a more in-depth coverage of sports in general.

Matt Vita: You make a good point. Boston is a great, great hockey town. Washington seems to be embracing the sport through the Capitals' success. So this spring we'll try to adjust as things move along, and try to provide more of the Stanley Cup playoff coverage, even in summary form, should the Capitals bow out earlier than they'd like.

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Redskins: I'll defend the Redskins coverage. That's what I want. And I'm not alone in this town, and people should stop trying to pretend that this isn't a football town. L.A. gives inordinate coverage to the Lakers. They are a basketball town. This is what happens when one of your franchises dominates a market.

Matt Vita: Someone defending the amount of coverage we give to the Redskins. So I just thought I'd share it with everyone.

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Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.: I get that the annual Redskins drama is a big story and should be covered, but for such an awful team, the Post sure as heck devotes are rather ungodly amount of resources to covering the same story: "Redskins Lose, Team Trying Not To Panic."

That said, you have an excellent collection of writers who do some really outstanding work. Dave Sheinin's story last week about Nick Adenhart had me near tears on the metro, Mike Wise's story last spring on Donald Brashear was nothing short of surprising, Boz continues to delight every day, and Barry Srvluga might be the best of the bunch.

Now, if we could just get less Redskins.....

Matt Vita: Thanks for the shout-out to some of our great writers.

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washingtonpost.com: Dave Sheinin: Angels Are Touched by a Rookie Lost, and Never to Be Forgotten (Washington Post, Oct. 15)

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Franklin Square, Washington, D.C.: What will be the policy of printing game stories for the Wizards and Caps? I was surprised to see the Wizards vs. Hawks exhibition game story was not in my printed paper but was part of Michael's blog -- not even worthy of an online story? Couldn't have been a timing problem unless Atlanta's moved. Will East Coast games be in the print edition and all others online?

Matt Vita: We publish all the game stories in the paper, and provide coverage on-line, including on the Capitals Insider and Wizards Insider blogs. What you are referring to is deadlines -- some non-East Coast stories don't make the early editions. In fact, some late-ending stories occasionally don't even make the paper. When that happens, we do post a story on-line right away for readers who want to see what happened immediately. In the following day's paper, we either re-print the game story or follow through with a second-day story for those editions that failed to get it.

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Arlington, Va.: The Post does a good job covering Georgetown and Maryland but seems to do less so with George Mason, Howard, and George Washington. The latter would be an excellent team to cover, either a real happy surprise or a disaster that would make the Redskins current difficulties seem like just another story.

Matt Vita: Thanks for the compliment on our Georgetown and Maryland coverage. We do cover George Mason, Howard and GW, though admittedly devote less space to those schools. We have a fulltime reporter whose job it is to cover their basketball teams. It's all a matter of scale.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The re-design is fine. I also like that you brought back the Wednesday NFL page. Consider also covering the Ravens again. I say that as a Redskins fan. When Redskins fans see how professionally the Ravens are run they will put even more pressure on the Redskins to improve. Just look at the two franchises over the last decade:

Ravens (2000-2009)-a Super Bowl victory, numerous playoff appearances, solid drafts and most importantly an identity as a tough defensive team.

Redskins (2000-2009)- no championships, one playoff victory, horrible drafts and an identity as a dysfunctional franchise.

Please cover Ravens to shame the Redskins. Unfortunately, this won't work for the Nationals since the Orioles stink too.

Matt Vita: Thanks. So far we've been covering the Ravens through a cooperation agreement we have with our friends at the Baltimore Sun. If the Ravens really get on a roll, we'll be writing more about them.

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Bowie, Md.: Why are the Ravens not seen as a team in D.C.? They are doing well, but seem to be shunted to the back pages always. Why do we have to have all of the negative stories about the Redskins in the front of the Sports page.

And what about D.C. United? They are likely going to be in MLS playoffs and in the CONCACAF Champions League playoffs. It's a shame that the Post spends so much time on losing teams (the Nats and Redskins) and not much time on winners (Ravens and United). Just a thought.

Matt Vita: Thanks. It's a perfectly valid thought. See my previous reply on the Ravens. As for DC United, Steve Goff, who covers them, is the best soccer writer in the country. He's United fans' best advocate for better story placement, and usually lets us know when we are under-playing things. If you haven't yet, take a look at Steve's Soccer Insider blog on washingtonpost.com. It's a must-read for soccer fans in Washington and across the country.

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washingtonpost.com: Steven Goff's Soccer Insider (Washington Post)

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Washington, D.C.: Let's get the whining out of the way right away so we can move on to other things.

Why do you still cover the Orioles?

Why don't you cover the Orioles anymore?

Why don't you cover Va. Tech more?

Why do you cover Va. Tech at all?

Why don't you cover women's sports more?

Why don't you cover high school sports more?

Everybody feel better? Now let's move on to something that hasn't been answered 1000 times already.

Matt Vita: I should have started off with this one ... But better late than never.

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Matt Vita: Our time is up. I want to thank everyone for participating. I'm sorry I couldn't get to all the questions, but I hope we can do this again sometime soon. Cheers.

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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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