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Ask the Post: Executive editor Marcus Brauchli takes your questions

Marcus Brauchli
Washington Post Executive Editor
Monday, September 20, 2010; 1:00 PM

Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli was online Monday, Sept. 20 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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Marcus Brauchli: Good afternoon and thank you for joining this chat.

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Vernon, B.C., Canada: Thanks for the chat. My biggest problem with your paper is the over-reliance on polls to drive "stories." For instance, the poll that said "1 in 5 Americans think the Prez is a Muslim" had only 554 respondents, yet it went international, like it was written in stone.

Considering that back in 1936 when Gallup was polling, he used around 1,000 respondents, which was a lot closer of a number to true representation of the number of voters. Now with 132,000,000 voters, how can 554 possibly be indicative?

Too much of the media has too incestuous of a relationship with the 1,000's of polling outfits. I'm complaining 'cause some stupid poll took the headlines on the politics page while way down at the bottom was a real news story that Obama was pushing at the GOP to quit stalling on the small business bill, which was supported by the Small Business Association.

Jobs are more of an election issue than what generic polls say, and it seems one-sided to not mention how the GOP was blocking this. Polls are guesses, and news is the GOP blocking the small business bill, for whatever their reasons were, which could be reported on too.

Marcus Brauchli: Good question. Polls, like studies and surveys, indeed do drive a lot of journalism these days. We try to build our reporting around those that are done in sound ways. There's a lot of statistical science around polling, for instance, and in general the polls we conduct or write about are pretty reliable, within the predicted margins of error. Our polling director, Jon Cohen, is one of the best in the business. When we don't know all the variables or have doubts about the quality of a poll or a survey, we aim to tell readers what the gaps in our knowledge are or to describe what might be possible shortcomings. Ditto with studies, which for some medical issues often are conducted over many years with thousands of people.

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Kensington, Md.: I should preface this by saying that I love sports, and have been following the Redskins since Sammy Baugh's last year. But nevertheless....

Yesterday the Post assigned seven reporters to cover one Redskins game, and that's not counting Wilbon, who I'm sure will chime in later. It also had reporters traveling to New York to cover the Jets, to Cincinnati to cover the Ravens, and to Dallas to see what the Cowboys were up to.

At what point can an objective observer read Andrew Alexander's weekly laments about staff reductions, buyouts, and financial woes, and begin to think that something just doesn't add up?

This is a "national" paper that doesn't even bother to maintain a New York or Los Angeles bureau any more, and yet for about five months a year you still manage to give more coverage to a perennially losing football team than you do to the President of the United States.

Are your readers really so provincial that they force the Post into such a completely wacko sense of priorities? Am I the only one who notices this? Are you even aware of the question?

Marcus Brauchli: Yes, we're aware of the criticism that we give too much attention to football in general and the Redskins in general. We've actually trimmed slightly the amount of space we dedicate in print to the Redskins over the last several years. But the team remains hugely popular in Washington and with our online audience. The columns and blogs we publish about the Redskins are among the most widely read on the site every day. The team draws the biggest crowds of any regular event in the city. And the narrative of the Redskins franchise in recent years has been so remarkable--a series of coaches and high-profile players, a pattern of dramatic, last-minute endings to key games, a strong-willed, determined, billionaire owner--that it's really an irresistible story for a metro paper like The Post.

It's worth pointing out that we do cover other sports in this town closely, too. Our coverage of the Capital's remarkable last season and of the Nationals' attempts to build the franchise have been central for our readers. We take pride in our sports department, which does outstanding work across teams and sports.

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National/international coverage: This is a strategic question for you about something I have long wondered: Why did you keep your international bureaus while closing your domestic ones? Washington, D.C. is the capital city of the USA, not the world. I'd rather see more robust national coverage than read about the latest demographic trend in India.

You have no presence in New York or Boston, none in the Midwest (not even Chicago, which is a pretty important city in the context of the current administration), none anywhere on the west coast -- not even a culture writer. Your national report used to be robust, and now it's gone bust. Why did you decide on international instead? Surely it can't be cheaper. Ego then? Coin flip?

Marcus Brauchli: I dispute the premise of your comment. Yes, we decided late last year to close some editorial offices in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. We didn't decide not to cover the rest of the country.

If you read us, you surely know that we continue to publish stories daily from all over the country. What we intended to cut back on was general-news reporting that we wouldn't have been able to get from wire services or that readers wouldn't easily be able to get elsewhere. Instead, we're putting our reporting firepower into the distinctive journalism that matters most to our readers: coverage of politics and national issues that will have an impact on Washington. The Post has always dispatched its political reporters from Washington to cover political news around the country, and we continue to do that, in ever greater numbers as we've put new resources into our political staff. We remain the premier website for national political news (see PostPolitics.com) and the most widely read newspaper on Capitol Hill.

As for international coverage, our Washington-focused audience cares deeply about the world and events abroad that may have consequences for U.S. policy. Our foreign staff is somewhat smaller than it was several years ago, but we remain firmly committed to having a robust foreign staff that can bring our readers a better understanding of the world.

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AU Park: Mr. Brauchli,

I am impressed by the way that you have integrated the print and online content at the Post. While the print edition is smaller than in the past, I suspect that total content has increased. I find that I am reading the Post in new ways. The print edition is a quicker read because I have already read some of the stories online. Keep on moving in innovative ways.

One problem I have with the current operation has more to do with readers than the paper itself: The comments sections on articles (as opposed to moderated discussions such as this one) are too often dominated by abusive and offensive comments. This has become such a problem that I usually avoid them. Blogs in the Times, while more difficult to access from the website than those in the Post, seem to have a more respectful tone.

Have you given consideration to moderating the comments in some way?

Thanks for your good work.

Marcus Brauchli: Thank you for the generous assessment of our progress. We are indeed publishing more news across more platforms than we have done before and trying to deliver it to each audience in the way that most benefits them. So, for instance, we now send text or email news alerts to subscribers who sign up to have them delivered to their mobile phones or BlackBerrys. If you want weather or traffic alerts, we can do that, too. We do interactive graphics and databases (see our TopSecretAmerica.com project) online, which let a reader engage directly with data and raw material we've gathered. In print, we put a greater emphasis on bringing understanding not only of what happened yesterday but what's likely to come tomorrow. We feature more narrative, investigative and other long-form writing in the paper. There may be fewer stories overall in each edition, but we hope we're delivering more perspective and original journalism than you'll find from other sources.

We are taking steps to introduce new ways of presenting comments. There's no doubt some of the comments on our site are offensive, and we move as swiftly as we can to remove those that aren't civil. We're slower at that than we should be. As part of a new system we're installing, we hope soon to be able to promote and feature comments that add real value to the conversation and to diminish or edit out altogether those that are offensive. The new system should be in place by early next year.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm not sure you are the correct audience for this comment, but here goes anyway: I am saddened by the reduction in interactive written chats (like this one!), either altogether or in favor of video chats. I usually read the chats at work during breaks, and I will never do that with a video chat because of the audio feature of the video chats. Based on comments others have made, fewer questions are answered in the video chats.

These chats are one of the main differences between the Post website and other news sites, and I think it was a significant difference. It allows interaction with the reporters, including the opportunity for reporters to debunk some of the more ludicrous theories floating around in cyberspace (this particularly applies to the political chats, obviously). Is there some way to get more of the chats back? The ones I particularly enjoyed were Steve Pearlstein's and the daily politics chats. Thanks.

Marcus Brauchli: Thanks for this. I wasn't aware that we were doing fewer written chats, although I did know we'd been ramping up video chats. I'll talk with our team to find out what their thinking is and whether we should be putting renewed emphasis on these written chats.

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D.C.: When can we expect to see a Washington Post iPad app - and might there be a new iPhone app coming soon, too? With all due respect, your current iPhone app is lousy. The Post's outstanding journalism deserves a better showcase than that.

Marcus Brauchli: We've taken more time than we probably should have developing an iPad application, but we hope to have one launched reasonably soon. Because iPad users can easily use their browsers to see washingtonpost.com, we felt readers could find our content as we thought through the right approach for an app. We'll review the iPhone app again soon, too. And we're looking at how we can better serve audiences using other platforms, such as the BlackBerry and Android-based devices. There's no question more and more people will read Post news primarily on mobile devices, and we need to ensure that we are serving them well.

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Silver Spring, MD: Is the Post starting some type of micro-local news organization? What do you think of such operations? And does the Post plan to start charging for its online news? Will that be essential to stay in business?

Marcus Brauchli: Last year, we launched PostLocal.com, a version of our website aimed at our online users in the Washington area, including northern Virginia and Maryland. With its own weather team (the Capital Weather Gang) and the largest and most experienced team of reporters covering the region, crime, schools, politics, government, sports and culture, we rapidly built up a strong, loyal following and a distinctive local voice for readers.

Other so-called micro-local sites have come into the Washington area, and are doing some interesting things in covering smaller communities well.

We're also looking at ways we can offer readers even more targeted news and information about their communities. We hope to have something more on this in coming months.

As for charging for online news, that's really the publisher's domain. For now, I think it's safe to say we're content to have a large audience that appeals to advertisers who in turn help us fund our journalism. If there's another model that makes sense and will let us keep serving and building our audience, we'd probably consider it.

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WashDC/Arlington/Montgomery: Mr. Brauchli - first: congrats to you and your team in the strong evolution of a great print and online product.

Should I worry that my print reading is valued less to you since it's harder to track where/how I am spending my time? For example, I read every word in print from your Metro/Local section - I would hate for my online WaPo activity to suggest I am any less interested in your local coverage (even though I spend more time on your politics, tech, international news online). I know you value my print reading as those full-page ads cost a pretty penny but sometimes I feel like hitting refresh on PostLocal.com just to be sure you know readers think value it greatly.

Marcus Brauchli: Thanks for the question. You don't need to worry: Covering the Washington area and having a strong local section in print and a competitive and engaging product at PostLocal.com is essential to our future, and we know it.

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Marcus Brauchli: Many thanks to everyone for joining the conversation today and for your continued readership of The Post.

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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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