Ask the Post: Managing editor Liz Spayd takes your questions
Monday, May 17, 2010; 1:00 PM
Washington Post managing editor Liz Spayd was online Monday, May 17 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions about the newspaper, Web site and the current state of the news industry.
Liz Spayd: Thanks for coming to join in a discussion today. Let's get going
Annandale, Va.: How much of an effort are you making toward getting readers to contribute story ideas to the paper? I think the only way to improve your local coverage is to open the lines of communication so readers feel that they can suggest story ideas and someone there will respond to their suggestions.
Liz Spayd: We make more of an effort than ever to make sure we're creating an active dialogue with readers -- so that we're not just telling you what you should read, but that readers and users of the site have a chance to interact with our reporters, bloggers and editors. You can always email any one of us -- reporter emails are now at the bottom of stories. Several of our bloggers seek out ideas from their audience using their blog. You can comment on articles, which most the the authors watch for impact and ideas. And of course there's the old-fashioned way -- you can always send us a letter.
Rockville, Md.: Why doesn't the Post periodically survey its regular daily subscribers as to their likes and dislikes? Also why does the sports section not have the amount of ads that the rest of the paper does? Is it underwritten by the teams, i.e., Nationals, Redskins, etc.? Sports section needs to include more than baseball and pro basketball and football. The Local Living is essentially the home section as there is very little local news. The Extras were more informative.
Liz Spayd: We do survey our readers on a regular basis...We use outside research groups that canvas readers about their likes and dislikes. We watch the traffic on our site carefully to see which stories and subjects people are responding to.
On our sports coverage, I'd say we have some of the best in the country, both in print and online. There's clearly a lot of interest in the Redskins and the Nationals, but there's plenty of coverage on local teams too, including some local web products. It's hard to strike a balance that pleases everyone's interests, you're right.
Local Living is a revamped version of how we used to present weekly sections on Home and the Extras, but the response has been quite positive. And local news generally is something we're committed to.
Arlington, Va.: Why do the liberals get multiple people who not only report on their ideas, but are considered mainstream or progressive. However multiple sites are saying that the individual who is covering the conservative movement on Right Now, is really a wolf in sheep's clothing. Howard Kurtz thought this was a legitimate complaint in a recent chat. Politico says this is because you want to take Web hits from places like Huffpost, and no longer place the same value on objectivity, at least when it comes to choosing how topics are blogged by opinion writers.
My sympathy for lack of revenue is greatly diminished when you only allow the opinions of one party to appear in your blogs.
Liz Spayd: We're working to make sure we do present coverage that is balanced. It's true, that's why we recently added the new blog, Right Now. Ezra Klein tilts more left, but many of the rest of our blogs aim to shoot down the middle -- they're looking to break news or help their audience analyze the news, but not be ideologues or take sides in political debates.
On the other side of the room -- the Opinions side -- we have some of the most popular convervative voices out there -- George Will, Charles Krauthammer -- and on the web, they get great traffic.
Alexandria, Va.: Who is it that's actually in charge of making decisions about the comics pages, such as moving the adult-targeted strip "Frazz" from the regular funnies page to Kids' Post, apparently just because its setting is a grammar school? Whoever makes those decisions, why does that person never post a blog or conduct online chats to justify such policies? Michael Cavna of course comments on the comics daily on the "Comics Riffs" blog, but it is more nearly as an observer and critic than as a policy setter.
Liz Spayd: Comics, as you can imagine, are one of the more popular parts of the site, and the paper. That's for sure. It's another case where lots of factors are involved -- what our reader surveys show us, what gets traffic. And, sometimes, changes in syndication of various comics. It's a mix of everything that our features editors try to weigh.
DC: I have a question about the use of photos in the Post (and other newspapers). Photos of actual events being described by the accompanying article--a picture of Sarah Palin or Barack Obama (take your pick)--actually giving a speech is fine with me because it is a record of the actual event.
What bothers me is when you run photos of people to illustrate what you assume must have been that person's mood within the context of the reportage in the article. For example, I've seen photos today of a broadly smiling Ahmadinejad accompanying articles about Iran's nuclear agreement with Turkey and Brazil.
The photo wasn't taken at the time of the agreement -- it's just a photo from some other time and place showing, I guess, that the editors thought Ahmadinejad must have been very happy or smug or something re the agreement.
Doesn't publishing "this is what he/she probably felt like/looked like" photos do a disservice to the concept of reporting the facts? You wouldn't write in the story that "Ahmadinejad must have felt like smiling broadly over the agreement" when no one knows whether that was actually his mood or not. Thank you for your consideration.
Liz Spayd: We have over the past year or so adjusted our philosophy about photography and how we choose images. We're not always aiming to simply capture, or mimick the news story or event, but to use visual elements to draw readers in. In choosing a tight shot of a prominent figure's face instead of a broad photo that shows an event, we're we're hopefully capturing a moment, a feeling, that helps you into a subject, or gets you to read the story.
McLean, Va.: In their online chats, last week Paul Fahri and one hour ago Howard Kurtz both held the Post to task for devoting relatively little coverage to the flooding in Nashville that killed 30 people and caused extensive property damage, perhaps because WaPo considered the BP oil spill and the failed NY bombing to be more "important". In fact, the Post relied completely on AP reports, sending no one to cover the Nashville story onsite. Will this be the coming trend, as the Post transitions from being a national newspaper to primarily a local one?
Liz Spayd: Well, you're right that we've tried to tighten our focus on what we do best and can do better than anyone. That means some important stories of national interest get a little less attention than they used to. To thrive, we need to concentrate on our franchise -- local news, local communities, sports, arts. And news about Washington and politics. That still means putting reporters and photographers on the ground in Louisiana, or Haiti or Fort Hood when big stories break. And we still have bureaus around the world. But with a smaller staff than we used to have (our industry's troubles are no secret) we have to make choices. On the floods, we did use wires, but without reporters on the ground there, it's a hard case to make that we could have done a better job with our own staff.
That said, it's critical that people can come to the site and the paper and know they'll get a complete report of the day's news -- whether we write it ourselves or we use another source. And we're always working to strike the right balance.
Right Now: Liz,
I for one find "Right Now" incredibly insulting. The Conservative movement is not a zoo animal that needs to be studied from afar, nor is it some hate-filled group that needs to be "monitored." Has there been a blog that covers the Left? I didn't think so (and please, don't say "44" covers the Left -- the WH is an entity that deserves its own blog, and is at times at odds with members of Progressive movements)
Liz Spayd: Right Now isn't the only way we cover the Conservative movement. You'll find stories on the site and in the paper regularly about the growin voter animosity toward Washington and Congress -- controlled by the Democrats. And on key districts where Republicans are turning the tide their way. It would be pretty easy to find stories and blogs that don't challenge the actions of the White House or the administration.
St. Cloud, MN: I am concerned over what I perceive as a decline in quality in the Post over the last year or so. You've lost a number of highly qualified reporters, who had considerable expertise in the subjects on which they reported. Their successors do not strike me as nearly as capable. Ditto your columnists. They all have opinions; but increasingly, they do not have much expertise. I know that newspapers are under financial pressure these days; but these trends are a matter of concern. For what it is worth, I would be willing to pay for access to your web site.
Liz Spayd: We've lost a lot of great talent over the past couple of years and newsrooms like ours and many others across the country are fighting against the economic forces pounding down on us. It's never easy to see colleagues and talent go. But we're lucky that we've also picked up some power houses too -- Karen Tumulty covering politics is a great new addition, as is blogger Ezra Klein, and Greg Miller on the CIA and intelligence. There's plenty more new hires we've made in the past few months when we've had critical holes to fill. Thankfully, we still have endless amounts of talent around our newsroom whose work continues to amaze.
Liz Spayd: Thanks for joining in. Sorry I didn't get to everyone's questions. Back to the news.
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