Ask the Post: Managing editor Raju Narisetti takes your questions

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Raju Narisetti
Washington Post Managing Editor
Monday, July 19, 2010; 1:00 PM

Washington Post managing editor Raju Narisetti was online Monday, July 19 at 1 p.m. ET to take questions about the newspaper, the Web site and the current state of the news industry.

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Raju Narisetti: Thank you for taking the time to join in this conversation today.

It is a busy day at The Post as a project that we have been working on for about two years debuted today in print and online. I hope some of you get a chance to read it and also spend time with the searchable databases we have provided at topsecretamerica.com. You can access the first day's story and the site through this link as well:

http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/

It is the kind of journalism that we at the Post are proud to do, and invest time and resources in, even as there are those who continue to question whether the Post is willing to do such journalism.

I would be quite interested in your feedback on this. And, of course, on any other issues on your mind.

Raju

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McLean, Va.: Raju:

The Post has now redesigned Local, Politics, Business and Investigations pages, but the actual articles themselves still look pretty dated (along, actually, with this page to submit this question, which has the menu bar last used in like 1999).

It's kind of like you've got 3 generations of sites still operating all over the place. When are you going to take the plunge and just redesign everything?

Raju Narisetti: Good observation. By mid-December when we shift the site to a new publishing system.

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No closed captions in the Top Secret videos: Mr. Narisetti,

I've raised this issue with so many Post managers it isn't funny. Once again you lead your online Top Secret story with a video that has no closed captions. This has me, a press officer with a hearing loss in the intelligence biz, severely compromised. Many, many others constantly write in to Wash Post blogs and discussions asking for closed captioning. Can you PLEASE add captions to all the Top Secret videos and to all your other video news stories?

Thank you.

Raju Narisetti: Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I must confess I hadn't thought about this until now. Let me talk to our Video editor Steven King and see if we can find a way to do this consistently in the future. I am not sure if I can get it changed/added for the Top Secret America video immediately but will find out what it will take to offer this.

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"Rats out": Wikileaks posted the following to Twitter over the weekend: Real change begins Monday in the WashPost. By the years end, a reformation. Lights on. Rats out.

What big changes are coming?

Raju Narisetti: I suspect they are referring to our Top Secret America project, a two-year investigation, that started publishing in print and online (topsecretamerica.com) today and their conclusion that it might lead to reform in such spending/the use of contractors. Here is a link to the project:

http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/

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Arlington, Va.: Please let the Ombudsman know that the New Black Panther Party is totally ginned up by Fox News. First, this event happened two years ago, in a majority black voting precinct, and in the background of that piece of tape, there is a white woman going in to vote. Second, the district voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Finally, the Bush Administraction declined to prosecute and settled the matter civilly. So don't be goaded by Fox News to cover something that only exists in their fevered imaginations.

Raju Narisetti: Thanks. I will forward this to Andy Alexander.

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Dunn Loring, VA: As the Post's ombudsman noted this weekend (Why the silence from The Post on Black Panther Party story?), the Post has ignored a story of alleged racial bias at the Dep't of Justice. Post political editor Kevin Merida claims this was due to staffing issues. Do you agree that the Post's political section is understaffed? If so, how could this same staff have time to write what was basically a press release for the same DoJ office that is alleged to enforce the nation's laws in a racially discriminatory manner? (Justice Department's Civil Rights Division steps up enforcement)

Raju Narisetti: I doubt there has ever been a time in the Post's history that a section/topic editor has not felt his or her section is understaffed! It is just the nature of newsroom editors. Having said that, there is little doubt that we could use more staffers in many areas. But, in difficult economic times and when the nature of our business has changed dramatically, we will need to simply do more and better with fewer resources.

Should we have jumped on this story earlier? Absolutely. Could we have jumped on this story earlier? Absolutely.

It was a combination of multiple news priorities, summer staffing, not focusing on everything we should have and overall tight staffing. But the answer isn't in simply adding more staff. It is in juggling our priorities well in serving all readers and in this case we fell short of our normal standards of what constitutes news and our responsibility in covering it.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Raju. Are you responsible for the placement of articles? If so, do you really think an article on Metro "seathogs" belonged on page A1? I think the first section should largely be resrved for "hard" news. Thanks.

Raju Narisetti: Turns out that yesterday, I was indeed very involved in the decision as I was sheparding our Top Secret America project. I think "seathogs" very much belonged on A1. It effects many of our readers and is a real issue. Is it "softer" than the other two stories on the page today (Top Secret America and BP oil issue)? Very much so. But we always try for an interesting mix of stories on Page 1 and don't define that space by "hard" news since some of our "hardest hitting" news is often in Metro, Style and even Sports. And by the one, it is rarely one editor's decision on story play. Even yesterday, at least eight editors had a chance to weigh in on the story and its placement on Page 1 in our evening news meeting. And nobody really felt it was out of place or that there was a better candidate to bump it off Page 1, keeping in mind the "mix" issues I talked about earlier.

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Scranton, Pa: I have noticed recently that washingtonpost.com is doing fewer and fewer politics chats with your political reporters, and those that are done are mostly video chats, which take fewer questions and are not as informative. Is this a management decision?

Raju Narisetti: Chats tend to slow a bit in summer months mostly because of slower news cycles and staff vacations and fewer people stuck in front of their computers, even in this heatwave we are seeing in DC. We are doing more video chats since those seem to resonate well with audiences online. The team that manages chats works for me and no "management" decision has been made to reduce chats, take fewer questions and especially make them less informative. I do periodically ask all our editors to review standing features (blogs/shows/chats) on our site to make sure we are not doing things for the sake of doing them and that they actually have an audience. But that process is just underway and hasn't led to any changes yet.

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Rockport, Mass.: Is the Washington Post planning on offering an iPad version of the newspaper?

Thanks

Raju Narisetti: Yes, in about 100 days.

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Captions/Transcripts: Actually, if not closed-captioning, can you please consider (very much) offering transcripts of your Web videos? So much great WaPo content is coming out on video or animation, and many of us cannot access it thanks to filters at work or equipment limitations at home.

I feel like I miss more and more of what's going on in the Washington Post. As newspapers consider charging for online content, many of us will have to abandon their internet platforms entirely if we can't actually see the info we would be paying for.

Raju Narisetti: We have begun offering transcripts with On Leadership and let me ask the Video team to look at doing this for more of our videos.

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Where's the transparency?: You hold newsmakers' feet to the fire, but when you have an embarrassement like David Weigel (and he was truly an embarrassment), you cirle the wagons- only the Ombudsman made any sort of comment. Double-standard, much?

Raju Narisetti: Actually not true. Howard Kurtz, who covers media issues for the Post, wrote a news story on Saturday June 26 and then followed it up with another column on the issue a week or so later. His original story quoted Marcus Brauchli, Post's Executive Editor, as well as information from me. Here is the story:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062504413.html

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Charlottesville, VA: When are you guys going to get an iPad app?

Raju Narisetti: In the next 100 days or less.

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Pittsburgh: I was reading about how some newspapers are outsourcing IT to save money and focusing on print and editorial. Will this become a growing trend in the industry?

Raju Narisetti: I am not sure it will become a growing trend in US newspapers because technology (including publishing systems) and information management is really core to a newsroom's operations, especially as we straddle print and web. What is more likely to happen is that customer support, especially on web, and some so-called back-end functions could end up getting outsourced. And maybe some development of new tech offerings. While everyone is looking closely at keeping costs down, I don't see a huge shift toward outsourcing among newspapers. At least not yet.

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State College, Pa.: Mr. Narisetti,

Thank you for taking your position on the firing line; it gives readers and subscribers a chance to have a dialogue with you, and discuss where the Post is going.

Your mentioning of staffing levels hit a chord; as a previous poster mentioned, what kind of staffing numbers do you have for political, metro and investigative reporting? Because as much as I love Dana Priest, I wish there were more like her. Which gets to my complaint: you have two reporters on the gossip front, two reporters on 'Celebritology' (whatever that is), and someone who seems to spend her time surfing the Internet looking for memes and trends (I'm not even going to touch the DW issue).

I know all work and no play makes the Post a dull newspaper, and I hate to call you out like this, but there seems to be a lot of staff assets devoted to fluff, and not a lot to actual news. Yes, one of the gossip columnists got that couple-that-shan't-be-named kicked out of a State Dinner, but really? All of those assets for stories that might be better-served in a supermarket glossy or tabloid?

Raju Narisetti: While I wouldn't want to get into specific hiring numbers, in keeping with Post policy of not talking about personnel issues in public forums, in the past year, we have added a fair number of people to our Politics team, probably the largest number of journalists added to one single group. And our Investigative team has continued to get signficant time, resources, space and support to do the kinds of investigations it needs and wants to do (and not just those that can take two years to get our arms around.) As a newspaper with 600,000 or so circulation and as a website with about 2 million visitors each day, we do cater to a variety of reader interests. Reliable Source has always been an integral part of Style and the Post and will continue to be because we believe in the kind of journalism Amy and Roxanne produce just as we believe there is a place for Jen and Liz on Celebritology online. Today, the debut day of Top Secret America, of all days, I feel very comfortable in putting the Post's editorial management record of covering what matters against any of our critics. We can always do more and better but given the constraints, especially resource constraints, you can't point to too many newsrooms that are doing the kind of journalism--serious and "fluff" (as you put it)--that the Post is.

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Missing or mis-delivered papers: I know that it is the summer and that often means time for vacations. I guess the people who deliver the paper can go on vacation too. Last week, I seemed to be missing my paper every other day. I saw one in front of my neighbor's house, but I don't think they subscribe. So, I know the papers have been delivered, but mine was either missing or mistakenly delivered to my neighbor. I called Sunday to report it missing and the recording said it would be re-delivered, but never was. I guess if it was mis-delivered, they could have come by and seen the paper and figured it was there. How much effort goes into missing papers and making sure the people who deliver are paying attention to the addresses.

Raju Narisetti: Quite a bit of effort.

Could you email me your details (name, phone or account number) so I can have colleagues in circulation look into this and address it. We promise a level of support on all 365 days and take the same money from you for each day so summer can't be an excuse for not giving you your paper. My email is narisettir@washpost.com

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Corrections?: Your corrections process stinks! I spotted an error in a Post report over a month ago and sent a note to the author - who promptly replied and apologized for making an embarrassing error. But other than a form e-mail thanking me for my submission I've heard ZERO from your corrections desk. Your Ombudsman suggested I write to a Mr. Coleman, who is supposed to be the editor overseeing corrections - he has not responded to two e-mails.

If, despite the author's admission of an error, the Post wants to stand behind the story as printed this reader would be interested in your justification. Why can't your corrections desk write back to submitters and let them know when a correction will be published, or why it was not published? I find your commitment to accuracy to be more of an advertising slogan than a way of doing business.

Raju Narisetti: I am sorry that you feel like you got the runaround. I can't answer this in detail because I don't know the specifics. And sometimes there is a genuine disagreement into whether something warrants a correction or not. If you want to forward me the specific information, I am happy to look into it and see what the issue might be. My email is narisettir@washpost.com

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College Park, Md.: Obviously, I've given it a lot of time and I can say that I seriously miss Book World as a standalone section in the Sunday Post. I used to save it for easy reference when I was in search of my next read.

There's not a whole lot to the print edition anymore and I'm have to admit I'm thisclose to canceling my subscription as one-by-one sections I like either fall away or shrink to nothing.

Raju Narisetti: I am sorry you feel that way. The Book World decision, made in early 2009, was a difficult one, but the economics of the newspaper business as well as readership data on that section gave us little choice. Essentially, it was the least read "section" of the paper. So we retained our Book World editing team and now run reviews in daily Style and a robust weekly book reviews section in Outlook. This has actually led to more readers finding and reading book reviews in the Post since both Style and Outlook had higher readership than Book World. And Book World, as a section, also didn't generate enough advertising to sustain it as a standalone section. So these two issues, coupled together, led to that difficult decision. I do hope you will find that our reviews in Style and Outlook as well as columns such as Jonathan Yardley's weekly column show we are continuing to devote fair amount of space to book reviews in the paper as well as at washingtonpost.com.

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Rockville, Md.: The intelligence story is probably interesting and informative but why didn't you run it in the Sunday Magazine or in smaller segments? Just looking at the length is so overwhelming that I'll probably not read it. How about some editing?

Raju Narisetti: We felt that the significance and importance of our Top Secret America investigation made the Page 1 play appropriate. It is a complex story and does need the space to tell it well. Through graphics and lucid writing, we have tried to capture the essence of what is happening in this top secret world around us.

We also have multiple "entry" points, if you will. For one, the 100-second overview video we have online (topsecretamerica.com) gives you a quick sense of what it is all about. The idea is to allow readers--in print and online--to get information that is most relevant to them and our layout in print attempted to do that.

The Sunday Magazine isn't the place where we have typically run such national security articles. As for editing, believe me, a lot of editing went into it and the story is a lot shorter than what it was and could have been.

But, sometimes, serious issues simply require serious space. Hope you will give it a second chance. It took us two years to figure out the complexity of Top Secret America so you don't have to feel like you need to read it all today.

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Join the Conversation, USA: Over the past few years, the Post has phased out some of its online discussions, like Michael Dirda's Books discussion, or the Post Rock discussion. As the discussions were winding down, the chat leaders encouraged people to "join the conversation" that would supposedly be continuing at related blogs on the Post site.

Indeed, those blogs launched, and in some cases morphed. PostRock is pretty great; the books discussion, Short Stack, turned into a blog on political books only.

My concern, however, has to do with participation. Let's face it: There's no real conversation going on in those blogs, nothing that can compare to the discussion that happens during these chat events.

Do you have any regrets about these changes? I sure do.

Raju Narisetti: I don't. We continue to introduce new online discussions as well as blogs, and continue to try and find ways to engage our audiences.

Can I give you the reason why it doesn't make sense for me to end what work well? My goal is to increase engagement with our readers so the last thing I would do is to try and end "engaging" discussions. And it doesn't make business sense to have less engaging formats.

Many of the decisions to reduce, change or eliminate some discussions stemmed from their lack of audience or their declining audience and our need to focus on those that are working well with our readers.

Happy to hear your ideas on what you would find interesting and engaging. Please feel free to email me at narisettir@washpost.com

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New York: On the WP homepage, you have a link at the top for the "hot" news story. Right now it's about Facebook hitting 500 million users. But when I click on it, it keeps going to the Post Business section and not the story itself. I know this is a small thing, but this happens all the time. An interesting politics story will take me to the Post politics page, at which point I am never able to actually find the story. Can't you just link to the story itself? Thank you.

Raju Narisetti: Agreed.

Typically we send a homepage link to a section front when that particular story is dominating or easily visible on that section front. In this case (and I haven't clicked on the link but will do right after this chat) if you couldn't easily locate the Facebook article on the page you want to, we are making you jump through unnecessary hoops for no reason. Will get it changed.

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Pittsburgh: On Post blogs where comments are allowed, too often spam is not removed in a timely manner, if at all, despite complaints either within the blog or using the "report abuse" function. Some of these are the same offenders repeatedly posting the same or similar messages, some are arguably hate-speech, while there's also off-topic advertising. Could some of the most egregious offenders please be blocked? Thanks!

Raju Narisetti: Yes. The problem is often not enough staff to moderate all the discussions and hundreds of comments that are happening on the site. We are implementing a new system in coming months that should help this process with features such as "bozo" filters that can catch abusers faster. But we still rely a lot on someone being flagged as an abuser. If you are running into serial comments abusers, please send me examples and we will try and get them out. My email is narisettir@washpost.com

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Re: staffing: I enjoy the Style columnists, and agree with your points about balance.

That said, I wish more of your political writers would actually practice journalism, and do research and analysis, rather than regurgitate daily poll numbers and give odds on the next election.

I've seen many posters demand more stories on the policies and not the process, but I see no changes.

Raju Narisetti: Could you send some specifics? I can forward them to Wes Kosova, our politics editor, to look into.

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Boston: Can y'all please promote Steve Pearlstein's work more? Before his Pulitzer I hadn't heard of him and even now I have a tough time finding his column on a regular basis. How about booking him for some TV shows, too? The guy is wicked smart and relatively entertaining in his chats (I mean, for a columnist).

washingtonpost.com: Pearlstein column archive.

Raju Narisetti: I am a big fan of Steve's work and our new business section actually tries to promote him (with a very attractive picture, I might add) much more prominently on the section front than we used to. He is indeed wickedly smart and entertaining as you put it.

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Philadelphia: This question concerns the columnists. Who makes the decision that E. J. Dionne will have two columns on the same day, both of them either supporting the Obama positions or opposing GOP plans, often without offering counter points. Does it not suggest that The Washington Post is more left-leaning than fair?

Raju Narisetti: Fred Hiatt, our editorial pages editor, and his team make calls on editorial columnists. Their decisions and choices are independent of our news operations. I will forward your comment to him.

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For the Commenter from State College, Pa: In defense of the "fluff" writers you cite, one also needs to consider the newscycle of different topics. It may appear that there are more Reliable Source and Celebritology-type staff because they post more frequently. Celebrity sightings (and missteps!) happen a lot more frequently throughout any given day than, say, signature legislations gets passed.

Just because Post politics or other "hard-hitting" writers have fewer stories (and spend more time on each one due to the complexity of the news), doesn't mean they are fewer or less valued.

Raju Narisetti: In terms of space devoted in print and online to politics in print or online at The Post, you are absolutely correct as well.

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Raju Narisetti: Thank you for a lively discussion. Hope to talk again soon. My counterpart Liz Spayd and Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli will take their turns and I will be back soon enough. And do read Top Secret America (www.topsecretamerica.com)...not that often a newspaper does this kind of journalism.

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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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