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Q&A With Tracy Grant

Tuesday, August 3, 1999

"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com
Bob's guest today is Tracy Grant, the managing editor for the new online midday edition of The Washington Post. For the past six years, Grant has been an editor at The Post, working as a copy editor in the Business section, assistant business editor for graphics and editor of Washington Business.

Tracy Grant
Tracy Grant
Larrry Morris/The Post
Before coming to The Post, Grant was an assistant city editor at The Miami Herald. She is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She lives in Silver Spring, Md., with her husband and their 3 1/2-year-old twin boys.

Please submit your questions for Tracy Grant now and during the hour.




Fairfax, Va: Wow - does this mean that cyberspace is bringing back the good old afternoon paper? Everything old is new again, huh?

Tracy Grant: Bingo. As someone who started my career at a P.M. paper, this does feel like going home again. The aim of the edition is to capture a new generation of P.M. readers. People in their offices who want to know what's going on in the world since the morning paper, since the Today show, since listening to the drive-in radio.


Rockville: Does this new midday online edition mean we're gonna start getting online local news that isn't almost completely from this morning's Post?

Tracy Grant: Absolutely. The idea is that we are truly in a 24-hour news cycle now and newspapers, even The Post, can't afford to hold onto news anymore until the next morning's paper. So, if Charley Casserly is let go at 10 a.m., you'll be able to come to washingtonpost.com's mid-day update and find that out, with the analysis and authority that only the sports staff of the Post can give you on that issue. If a police officer is shot in the District, if George W. Bush makes an important policy speech, if AOL buys the world, you should know that you can come to washingtonpost.com and get the Washington Post's take on that news.


Bob Levey: The Post is famous for the depth of its coverage. But your mid-day "newspaper" will be far briefer, and therefore far less deep. How do you square this possible conflict?

Tracy Grant: The answer is that we're serving a different purpose. Not necessarily a different audience. Many of our online readers are the same people who get the Post every morning. But if the Northern Ireland peace talks break down and we have one of the great foreign correspondents, T.R. Reid, at those talks, we should be able to tell our online readers that news shortly after it happens. That doesn't mean that there won't be MORE in the next morning's paper. But the reality is we have a great reporting team who know things much earlier than we're able to publish it in the newspaper, so washingtonpost.com is a vehicle to get that news to the readers.


Fairfax, Va.: How are all The Post reporters reacting to what probably amounts to more work?

Tracy Grant: Post reporters are human beings and human beings sometimes resist change. But the reality is that a great body of the newsroom already contributes to the online edition. Rajiv Chandrasekaran filed daily updates from the Microsoft trial; Peter Baker filed daily during the impeachment ordeal. We have forums like this hosted by respected Post newsroom employees. And those people who have done, virtually immediately see the benefit. There's a wider audience for their work. There's more feedback. There's a sense of being able to break stories or get what you know out there. The goal of this edition is to expand the pool of reporters who are contributing.


Bob Levey: Tracy, let's clear up the question of when the new mid-day on-line edition will make its debut. This fall? Sooner?

Tracy Grant: Look for it after Labor Day ... you won't be able to miss it; I guarantee that ... 1 p.m. every day. Check in religiously.


FFX, VA: So, how exactly will this new online edition be different than the existing online edition?

Tracy Grant: I think you are, correctly, pointing out that washingtonpost.com is already updated for news. What this will be is the equivalent of having a new electronic newspaper dropped on your doorstep. It will be a new home page packaged with files on the major national, political, foreign, business, sports, local, style stories of the day written by post reporters. Packaged in a way that you can click on one site and get an update on the news that you need to be a literate news consumer as you head out for lunch, come back from lunch, or get caught up while eating lunch at your desk.


Bob Levey: Let's say that some disgruntled day trader begins shooting up Atlanta at about 2:40 p.m. Eastern time. Your mid-day edition has "gone to press" 100 minutes earlier. How do you respond? An update? An extra of some sort?

Tracy Grant: The reality of that situation is that we get the news up as soon as we can and that probably means an AP wire story. We have a broad and diverse national staff, but on that day it took us a few hours to get a reporter from Miami to Atlanta. So in that case, washingtonpost.com will respond to the news by getting the best information that we can up as soon as we can. NEWS is the ultimate goal. NEWS drives readership at online sites. But the beauty of news online is that you never really go to bed. It's so much easier to update breaking stories online that it is for the daily paper. So you come to washingtonpost.com for breaking news and you read the Post the next morning for the context. This is really a great partnership.


Arlington, VA: Are you concerned at all that this midday "paper" will be more like a TV show than a newspaper, in that it will contain almost entirely "reactionary" news -i.e., having a reporter on the scene of a fire- instead of what newspapers do best--create news with investigative reporting?

Tracy Grant: In the best tradition of Washington Post journalism, we don't want to just, for example, say: George W. Bush said xxx in a speech this morning. We want, for example, to have our political reporters (David Broder, Ceci Connolly, Dan Balz, et al.) tell you that in that speech this morning, George W. broke with party line, ran the risk of offending the far right, etc. etc. We don't just want to tell you that inflation rose 0.2 percent in July; we want to have John Berry, one of the great economics reporters currently working, say what that means for interest rates. Sure, if there's an officer shot someplace that will be, by definition, more "reactionary" news. But the goal is to give you the what you expect from the Washington Post, just in a different venue.


Bob Levey: One more clarification: Will you get to the mid-day edition via the washingtonpost.com home page, or will the mid-day edition BE the home page?

Tracy Grant: The Mid-day edition will BE the home page (or at least the top half of the home page.) No extra clicking required.


Wash DC: Does this mean the Post is hiring?

Tracy Grant: We don't want to hire people to write for the online edition. That defeats the purpose. We want the bylines that readers have come to know, love, respect in the print edition to appear on the midday report.


Bob Levey: More on the question of getting old newspaper dogs to learn new tricks: The Post's newsroom is full of people who grew up on paper and ink, and who worship it. They tend to view the Web as some sort of techno-upstart. How do you get past this cultural barrier?

Tracy Grant: I think doing this now will be MUCH easier than it would have been two years ago. I think lots of old dogs have discovered what a wonderful vehicle the Web is for reporting, for exchanging information. And reporters who file for the Web, particularly national and foreign correspondents, realize that they can reach a far broader audience online than you can with the Post's limited circulation area.


McLean, VA: I'm a bit confused. The main WP page is already updated throughout the day--the time of update appears right under the masthead. How will this be different? Will the midday edition not run the longer stories from the print edition, such as this week's series on Eastern Shore chicken farming or last week's on George W. Bush?

Tracy Grant: Sorry for the confusion. You're absolutely right that washingtonpost.com is updated regularly throughout the day. This will be a package of stories by Washington Post reporters that will be unique. Right now, you can go to a variety of sites and get the latest news from the various wire services. What you can't get is a package of stories that editors and reporters at The Washington Post think are the most important things for you to know at the lunch hour. We really think we're going to be producing a must-have product. But I want to stress that it's a NEWS product. It will be things that have happened since you got to work or since you saw the morning paper.


Bob Levey: Sorry if I sound like a business school student here, but.... Who's the market for the mid-day edition? Local people who don't read The Post? Local people who DO read The Post? People in other parts of the country and the world? All of the above?

Tracy Grant: Hey, I'm a business editor. I love biz school questions. The market is everybody. Locally, we think subscribers need to click in at 1 p.m. to find on what's happened since the paper landed on the doorstep. We also want people who don't subscribe to check out the web site and maybe decide they want the paper or maybe not. Nationally, the web site can be the Post national/international edition. It's really hard to find a Washington Post in Paducah, Kentucky ... or even Chicago, but you can get Washington Post journalism on the web site and that's a vehicle that the Post didn't have a few years ago. And this applies to everything about washingtonpost.com, not just the midday edition.


Fredericksburg, VA: Have any other papers tried anything like this before? Is there a Web site I can visit to get an idea of what to expect?

Tracy Grant: Lots of papers are updating their sites throughout the day; many with staff stories, but we believe we are certainly among the first to be offering this kind of "back to the future" P.M. edition online. You can log onto washingtonpost.com at 1 p.m. starting this fall to see how this great experiment unfolds.


Falls Church, VA: How much preparation for your current job did you receive at Northwestern? Do you think that the top Journalism schools are keeping pace in preparing students to be a part of the new e-news medium?

Tracy Grant: Northwestern is a great school and it taught me a lot about journalism. But when I graduated in 1986, everybody typed their stories on manual typewriters!


Tysons Corner: You say that the new edition will strickly be for NEWS that happens between the paper copy being put to bed, and Noon. Do you think you will have enough each day without resorting to some kind of filler?

Tracy Grant: It's a good question to ask in August when news is scarce, but we're coming into the heart of the political season now, which needs to be one of the cornerstones of this mid-day edition. I think we'll be getting up and running just at a time when there will be a huge burst of news.


Bob Levey: Why did you decide on 1 p.m. as the daily appearance time? And is that a hard deadline, or can it slip a little?

Tracy Grant: There's a huge surge in "traffic" to the web site between noon and 3 p.m. We suspect because people want to check in at the mid-day to see if there's news they need to know. To be frank, we want to exploit the traffic surge and give people who are coming to the site a reason to keep coming back. So we decided a totally new news package at 1p.m. of Washington Post reported stories would be a pretty strong incentive.


Rockville: Are there any changes in the writing style that will be used in the online articles? -Such as shorter paragraphs, bullets-

Tracy Grant: We know that people come to the Web site to scan for headlines and then read stories that intrigue them. Most people don't want to read huge chunks of copy on a computer screen. And to be frank, given the deadlines, most reporters won't have time to file huge chunks of copy. So stories will be tight, but we think more authoritative in most instances than the wires.


Bob Levey: Because of time differences, a large hunk of our foreign report in the newspaper is nearly 24 hours old by the time it appears. Not so on-line. Is foreign news a big piece of your strategy?

Tracy Grant: I think foreign news will be a staple of the edition and our foreign staff has already distinguished themselves by regularly filing stories that can be put online early. Part of the beauty of all of this, is that the time difference really HELPS the foreign staff and the online edition.


Bob Levey: Who's your competition? CNN? All-news radio? Katie Couric? All of the above?

Tracy Grant: Most of the above. You shouldn't be hearing things for the first time on all-news radio on the drive home that happened this morning. You should know you can come to washingtonpost.com to get that; you shouldn't feel the need to tune into CNN. But we shouldn't be telling you the same thing that Katie did in the first half hour of the Today show. We need to be advancing the ball on those stories. And we will be.


Bob Levey: That's all we have time to cover today. Many thanks and good luck to our guest, Tracy Grant. Be sure to join us next Tuesday at the same time when "Levey Live" goes on the road, to Bristol, Conn. Our guest will be Donald Soucy, Eastern Regional Director of Little League Baseball. Our show will take place on the first day of the Eastern Regional Little League playoffs. Also, you're invited to join us each Friday for "Levey Live: Speraking Freely," a freewheeling question-and-answer show. It appears from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.



© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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