Post managing editors discuss redesign, magazine, comments and more
Monday, November 16, 2009; 12:00 PM
The Washington Post's managing editors, Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti, were online Monday, Nov. 16 at noon ET to take questions about both the newspaper and Web site, as well as the current state of the news industry.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thank you for joining us today. Fire away. Liz and Raju
Fort Collins, Colo.: This is more of a combined question/comment: As an ex-Washingtonian, I have a fondness for the Post. I love the chat sessions, especially when they cover substantive issues. But I have to say I've found my affections wandering towards the New York Times. I like the science and climate change coverage of the NYT, as well as the international coverage; and sometimes I feel like the WP is too focused on politics-as-a horse-race type coverage.
We tried to get the WP out here in CO, but there was no paper version; so we've just gotten local papers. What I really wish is for you to work with local papers (I include the Denver Post in this) and provide quality national and international news, while still giving local content and having local reporters. Has this ever been considered?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Glad you like the chat sessions and the Post even when you are not in its print circulation area. Much appreciated. We recently started a Health & Science section on Tuesday, expanding on our Health section (even as we added personal health and fitness to our new Thursday Local Living section)that does cover more science stories. Being in Washington, policy does often take centerstage but we would like to know more about what stories you would like to see. Do write to our Health & Science editor Frances Sellers (email@example.com)
As to working with other papers, we offer the Washington Post news service for them to subscribe to but many of them use Associated Press so it is often a matter of their economics than our willingness to share our content.
Glen Burnie, Md.: Why does The Post devote so much of the "news hole" to the Washington Redskins football team?
Second (I know you can't do anything about this but I renew my ongoing request,) why can't I get home delivery? I live about a mile away from Severna Park, Md., where they DO get home delivery.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: This question keeps coming up but both in print and online, Redskins coverage is very popular and has a huge audience so we believe it is important to give it adequate coverage.
Can you send us your address and we can check with the circulation department and have them get back to you. You can email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Alexandria, Va.: Can you please list ALL of today's online discussions on the main Discussions page, as you used to? Right now you pick maybe 4 to highlight, and I have to click two or three more times to see what's even on. Thank you
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks and glad you like our discussions section. The issue is really about home page space and the need to use that for all the content that is offered at any given time within washingtonpost.com. I will forward your suggestion to our Interactivity team especially because we continue to rethink how our homepage should look like as part of overall redesign changes.
Longtime reader: Who is the Post actually aimed at? I hear that local arts organizations are so disappointed in the Post's declining arts coverage that they are reducing their ad buys because they have concluded that the Post no longer reaches their audience. But you've created a section that treats weddings as news stories?
Your ever-present Going Out Guide routinely ignores some of the region's most popular public events, which I have to learn about from other sources.
If I want complete, quickly accessible movie listings I have to go to Fandango (not your clunky Web site) because at least one major theater chain has concluded that advertising in the Post is a bad investment. (Maybe it's time to include free movie listings as a public service, like most other papers.)
What is the best case you can make for buying the Post? What does the paper offer for 75 cents that I can't find free on numerous Web sites, including your own?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: The Post tries to have a "For and About Washington" approach that appeals to those who live in our circulation area as well as those who want to read about Washington, irrespective of where they live, especially when reading washingtonpost online. The paper remains the most widely circulated single offering in the region and has among the broadest reach for any large paper in a metro. Our Friday Weekend section does try to cover the waterfront on local arts events with Going Out Guide being somewhat more selective in events that it focuses on. We continue to try and expand Going Out Guide online--as well as in print where we have daily Going Out Guide picks in the paper be it in Style, Local Living, Weekend or Sunday magazine.
It is true that arts advertising is down but it has more to do with the overall economy--most advertising categories are down this year.
As for movie listings, Going Out Guide does offer a comprehensive list online.
Bowie, Md.: Why are you wasting Steve Pearlstien's time on such a nebulous topic as On Leadership?
I'd much rather he had a blog, detailing what the latest financial news tells us about our daily economic lives.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Steve actually came up with the On Leadership idea and is a big proponent of it and an active participant. It remains a fairly popular feature online. We will forward your blog suggestion to Steve. If he wants to start a blog, it would be great.
Blogosphere : Post editor Henry Allen got a lot of attention in City Paper and Washingtonian for punching out a colleague in the newsroom. What has the Post done about him? Also, I understand that Allen actually took the first Post buyout five years ago, and has remained on a private contract. How can the Post allow non-employees to supervise employees? How many other supervisors are non-employees?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Nothwithstanding all the stories that are out there, we think this is an internal HR issue and we don't comment on such matters.
Washington, D.C.: 2 comments about the mobile site.
1. Can you link to the Discussions on the mobile site? 2. Can you link to the normal website at the top of the mobile site.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks. There is a "View The Full Web Site" link at the bottom of the mobile site though we do think the mobile site is really optimized for viewing on your blackberry or iphone so is a better experience.
There is no immediate plan to link discussions from the mobile site but am going to forward the idea to our mobile business development/mobile editor as several enhancements are planned for the offering.
Alexandria, VA: I was informed by a relative in Pennsylvania that you are discontinuing the National Weekly Edition. What were the reasons leading up to that decision?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: While we are not directly involved in the National Weekly, it was a business decision that was announced earlier this year and stems from declining circulation/advertising and the ability for washingtonpost.com to reach more audiences in areas where a printed version isn't circulated.
DC: I'm a long-time Sunday Post subscriber and a daily (one might say obsessive) Post.com reader. And you've finally pushed me to become solely the latter.
The paper, which used to drop at my apartment door like a brick of literate insight now settles on the sidewalk outside of my apartment complex like a feather largely composed of badly organized shopping suggestions. The editing mistakes are numerous, and frustrating. I cannot manage my subscription online, and when I called to get it fixed, every person I talked to gave me another phone number to call. (I gave up after five.)
I know you can't just worry about one person, buy my experience probably mirrors the state of the newspaper industry: my Sunday morning newspaper tradition has been killed not by any single thing, but rather by a thousand cuts.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: I am sorry you feel that way about our Sunday paper as it remains a fairly robust offering in terms of sections and overall size (which is often a function of advertising when it comes to number of pages.) While it is true you no longer have a Book World on Sunday, there is a fairly robust book reviews section on Sunday (and daily reviews in Style during the week.) The magazine has more features in its redesigned version than before even as its focus on longer stories remains the same.
I am not sure what issues you are facing regarding managing your subscription online but can you drop me an email (email@example.com) so we can try and address those. Sorry if you got the runaround in trying to get it fixed.
Cleveland Park, DC: Not sure if this is your domain, but often, the print edition link on washingtonpost.com has links to old papers. For example, this morning, the Style section still had Sunday's contents. The Real Estate section still has 11/7 (was there no section on 11/14?)
Is there someone we can contact when we see this? Or should we assume there's a reason the old content is up?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Am afraid there is no good reason other than us not being on top of our vendor (if this is the pdf version you are talking about). Will flag the relevant section owners about the two specific issues you have flagged. Thanks.
Bethesda, Md.: What's been the reaction so far to the new Metro-area home page? Will we see the regular home page move in a similar direction?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: For a hp that is still in beta (as in we continue to tweak it), the response has been very encouraging so far. Page views are up over 250% from the old Metro section front. Our national hp serves a very different audience so we don't see a cookie cutter approach to all our audiences. Let us know what you think of the local home page as well as any suggestions you might have for the national hp. Thanks.
Redesign Experiment: when will this be abandoned and the Post returned to the sophisticated look and feel deserved by a world-class newspaper?
It currently looks like the Middle America Gazette. I've been a subscriber for over 20 years and would hate to cancel because of it. Can I at least opt out of the Sunday Magazine? We haven't opened it since the first "new" issue because the design is so jarring and distracting. And I really like Edward Jones so I'm glad I can read the profile online.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks for the feedback. Any redesign of a well loved product needs to be handled carefully so we keep a close eye on feedback. At the same time, there has been a lot of feedback that is showing that almost all ratings are considerably higher than what we have seen in the past with "excellent and very good" ratings being higher than those received before the redesign, especially for headlines, photos etc. We will continue to track the feedback closely across the paper, including the magazine.
Springfield, Va.: I submitted two corrections for the same factual error in two reports. I wrote to the authors, the ombudsman, an editor named Perl, and your managing editor - no correction and no one wrote back except the ombudsman who promised to look into the matter and then failed to follow up. How do you handle corrections - ones that are accepted and ones that are rejected? I supplied several sources, including quotes from another Post report and a NYT article, but no one from the Post has bothered to tell me why all of my sources are wrong and your stories do not need a correction or clarificaiton?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We have an elaborate system of tracking requests for corrections and have become much more nimble in responding quickly to this issue, especially when compared to the beginning of this year. Sometimes the process requires us to check back with original sources and there are times when it is an issue of figuring out who is right before running a clarification or a correction. If you can resend your request I will figure out where it stands. Can you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
Washington, D.C.: Today brings an outstanding news article about the intersection of campaign contributions, lobbying, and the resulting lockstep actions of elected officials of both parties. It was well-researched, and provided readers with a concrete example of well-known but also well-hidden phenomenon. Although it occurred in the halls of Congress--your own backyard--it was written by the New York Times.
Please see what you can do to devote more assets to such well-researched stories that hold power--especially unelected elite power--accountable. You might start by cutting out the daily horse-race horsehockey.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks. It was a really good story in NYT.
But, even if we say so ourselves, we have covered this topic aggressively with several news and analytical scoops in recent weeks and months and will continue to focus very closely on it. When it comes to accountability journalism, despite significant pressure on resources in the newsroom, we have not pulled back and don't plan to.
Washington, D.C.: I'm glad to see as I read this chat that other people are as unhappy with the magazine redesign as I am. Your move away from stories with any substance and length is disappointing. I have been a Sunday subscriber for years, partially because I enjoy reading the magazine in person, but the issues since the redesign have been terrible, and have offered nothing that I want to read. I am no longer engaged by your main articles, and your move away from articles that might make someone sad (i.e. Katherine Weymouth killing one article recently) is insulting.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: The last six or seven magazine cover stories have been on:
--Author Edward Jones who has rendered the soul of black Washington
--An indepth look at Chuck Brown, the go-go legend
--An indepth look at Michelle Rhee, the schools chief
--A detailed look at people driving fascinating research at area universities
--Why the Renaissance festival is such a huge success in our area
--Tom Siestma's 10th Annual Dining Guide
--Steve Hendrix on the classic My Side of the Mountain
And I am not even mentioning the second feature length story in each issue. All these pieces have substance--and length.
We understand that some of the new, shorter features may not be everyone's liking but the main stories continue to offer strong long-form journalism that the magazine has always been known for.
And finally I wouldn't assume it is gospel truth when you read blogs about how decisions are made in the Post newsroom. There is a huge hit and miss quality to the accuracy of many of those articles!
DC: Not the previous poster, but no, it's not just the PDFs. On the Style page, I always click to the print edition because that page actually lists and synopsizes all the articles printed that day, and includes the author's name. (I'm not sure why the not-so-new anymore Style home doesn't include this stuff; it's endlessly frustrating.) But about one day out of five, the print edition page has not been updated; about four days out of five, it includes an insanely old photo, usually accompanied by an incorrect caption.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: thanks for the clarification. next time you see a problem please feel free to email the following Style editors Lynn Medford (email@example.com), Ned Martel (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Nancy Kerr (email@example.com) and sorry about this.
Burke, Va.: I'm a longtime subscriber of almost 10 years. Why am I being charged almost 3 times as much as a new subscriber -- $1.50/week vs $4.44 per week. Shouldn't everyone pay the same rate? If you are going to give discounts, why not reward your longtime subscribers?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Hi. Am afraid I am not equipped to give you the right answer on this but can you drop an email to our marketing head Candy Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org) giving your specific information. She should be able to respond more accurately than I would.
Alexandria, Va.: Can you tell us a little about the decision to suspend comments Friday on the stories about the shooting at Fort Hood? And is the Post considering doing anything to change its comment policy?
washingtonpost.com: Struggling to monitor anti-Muslim comments
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Given the volume of traffic on our site especially for major stories, we, like many other major news websites, struggle to monitor comments and make sure they meet the standards that we have laid out on the site. While there is a mechanism for other readers to flag comments that are deemed out of line with our guidelines, it still requires human intervention to delete such offensive posts. If a comment thread is starting to go away from our guidelines, several editors discuss the issue and then a decision can be made to suspend comments. Sometimes we turn off comments overnight if we are unable to monitor them as closely as we might during the day. We are constantly evaluating the best ways to monitor and improve the nature of debate online and welcome your suggestions on this front.
Washington, DC: After several weeks of the new magazine, I question the format shift. The move away from any real length story that could engage the reader and towards shorter, meaningless subject matter is an utter failure to me. The long articles are what made the magazine worth reading, now it's just an even worse version of the weekend Fashion and Style section, which is virtually unreadable. Is there any talk in the newsroom about bringing substance back to the magazine? What does the magazine staff think of the new format?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks. I answered this question in detail in response to another question about redesign. Magazine cover stories continue to run at anywhere between 100-150 inches so, honestly, long stories isn't really the issue between the "old" and the "new" magazine. We will continue to tweak some of the "front of the book" offerings based on feedback from readers. Magazine staff loves the new format and realizes that not everyone will like everything in every issue.
Philadelphia: Hi, I would love to see some retro thinking on the discussions. It's much slimmer pickings these days compared with last year, and it's not an improvement in my view. You desperately need a weekly Weingarten. The site is weaker for not having music critic, intelligence beat, defense beat more of your beats overall. Ezra shouldn't be alone on the policy beat -- that should be a daily discussion along with politics. Policy and politics need to be given equal weight. On top of it, Kurtz needs help too: More coverage like you had this morning on the Chamber of Commerce trying to manufacture the news. Every news story should be picked apart this way -- what PR firm and strategy is behind it, how has it been manufactured, etc. You should be relentlessly lifting the veil and showing us what's behind the curtain.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks for the feedback. One of the challenges we face in a tough business environment is to reinforce areas of core coverage--like you suggest--by redirecting resources within the newsroom from areas that might be less important/relevant. Have you checked out our new music critic Chris Richards? Please search for his reviews/stories online and let us know what you think. And we agree--Ezra is terrific.
Washington, DC: I guess the issue with the magazine is that I don't consider an article on the Renaissance Fair to be substantive. I'd much rather spend my Sunday mornings reading about health care reform, or Gen. McChrystal. Maybe we just have different definitions of what consitutes "substance" in a national newspaper.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Fair enough. Between our A1, Opinion pages and Outlook, there are a lot of other venues for the two specific topics that you cite. Am afraid health care reform or Gen McChrystal are unlikely to be featured in the magazine at least in a policy way but stay tuned--a magazine cover story that is coming up soon really gets at health care reform in a very engaging way and would be interested in your views on the balance of substance vs less substance as far as the magazine covers go after that. It is tricky to strike the right balance, I admit.
Philadelphia: Here's a vote for permanently disabling the "comments." I really don't think our civilization is well served by it. If people want to practice free speech -- and the more the better -- best to do it through a more accountable channel.
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Believe me, this is a huge topic of debate internally. But there might be technological and other user/reader generated ways to try and surface best comments and push down ones that are just noise than kill them entirely.
Phoenix, AZ: I just wanted to compliment WaPo. I've never even lived in the DC area, but I've become addicted to the online version. I love the columnists - Pearlstein, Wilbon - as well as the op-ed writers. I particulary love the Fix and the daily political chats. They help the work day go by. Good job, guys!
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks...it is good to be at the receiving end of these, even if 1 in about 50 in an hour-long chat :-)
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Thanks again for participating in the chat. Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli will be up next month and Liz and I will return after that. Keep pushing us to be accountable to you. Raju
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.