Q&A with Marc Teren
"Levey Live," appears each Tuesday from 12 to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It is a live, moderated discussion offering washingtonpost.com users the chance to ask questions directly of the people who make the news and the people who report it. Your host is Washington Post columnist Bob Levey.
Good afternoon. Bob Levey here with Marc Teren, president and publisher of Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive, creators of this Web site. In addition to being responsible for developing the company's future in new-media and electronic publishing, Teren is also publisher of Newsweek.com, which launched on October 4, 1998.
Prior to joining WPNI, a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company, Teren was with the Walt Disney Company as vice president of Disney Interactive's entertainment division. He has extensive experience with the development of interactive games and directed Disney's early production of animated storybooks and activity center software.
Here is a transcript of the conversation with Marc Teren.
Richmond, Va.: When washingtonpost.com was put up, there was the assumption that you guys were just allowing us to sample the content and that you would then begin charging for it. Although I am very happy you did not, I was wondering why you chose not to charge?
Marc Teren: In the Washington market we are proud of the fact that The Washington Post newspaper is $.25 --- this has lead to the highest in market readership of any newspaper in America ---- the equivalent online is to be free. We plan to stay there.
Bob Levey: Between June 1997 and June 1998, page views on washingtonpost.com exploded from 20 million a month to 50 million a month. Did you send Monica a dozen roses to thank her?
Marc Teren: We haven't yet Bob --- but it's not a bad idea. Certainly the news has been focused on Washington D.C. and this has been great for building readership for washingtonpost.com.
Frederick, Md.: How important is your sports section to your site -- is it the main reason your site is so popular?
Marc Teren: Anyone who thinks Washington D.C. is only focused on politics really doesn't understand this region. The Redskins have always been at the top of our readers' minds and hearts ---- Sports on washingtonpost.com is always one of the top sections and our readers in this area are very loyal.
Bob Levey: In the 1996 annual report of The Washington Post Company, our Superbig Boss, Donald Graham, wrote that the "future profitability [of washingtonpost.com] looks murky." Does it still?
Marc Teren: In a world [of] Internet stock often valued on multiples of negative cash flow, maybe that's not a bad thing. We are investing in the future with washingtonpost.com and Newsweek.com.
Arlington, Va.: So many Web sites are cluttered by ads. It seems that washingtonpost.com is more and more sacrificing its editorial content for advertisements. Do you think this demeans The Washington Post brand?
Marc Teren: The reason sites like washingtonpost.com are free to readers on the Internet is because advertisers support our product. Frankly, I would be happy with more advertising. We will always separate this from our editorial content and mission.
Bob Levey: How do you answer critics who say that they'll never buy The Washington Post again if they can get it for nothing on the Web?
Marc Teren: I think it is mostly bravado. The Washington Post newspaper is a one of a kind publication. washingtonpost.com supplements the paper, but certainly doesn't replace it.
Washington, DC: This was quite a year for the Web. The Drudge Report broke the Lewinsky story, the Starr Report was published on the Web (thus making Congress purveyors of erotica) and people shopped online like crazy during the holidays. So where, Mr. Teren, do you see this medium five years from now? Is the Web approaching commodity status?
Marc Teren: I'm not sure if commodity is the word I would use to describe the Internet phenomenon ---- it is certainly reaching ubiquity, and it will only be more important and eventually indispensible in our daily life.
Bob Levey: All right, it's Friday night. I want to take my wife to an Italian restaurant. Maybe this is Old Guy Bob Levey talking, but it would never occur to me to research Italian restaurants on washingtonpost.com. Yet such advertising links to your entertainment pages are very much a part of the game plan at washingtonpost.com. Won't you face resistance such as mine?
Marc Teren: The Internet is changing habits and, by your comment, we might need to work a little harder on changing yours ----- we are defining the washingtonpost brand on the Internet and just as restaurant reviews are important to readers of The Washington Post, likewise they are important to our readers. We are proud of the fact [that restaurant critic] Phyllis Richman has a ever larger audience on washingtonpost.com, as do you, Bob.
Arlington, Va.: I think that the site does a great job with the live chat, not only Levey and Richman but many of the one-shots. These make the site valuable aside for things beyond the newspaper's content. Keep it up!
Marc Teren: You'll see even more in 1999. Thanks for the support.
Bob Levey: What is the bedrock business plan of washingtonpost.com? Is it to create a brand-new worldwide product, or to shore up the circulation of The Washington Post by reinforcing the brand name?
Marc Teren: We have a two pronged mission --- to be the first source of news, information and e-commerce for residents of the capital region; and second, to be the primary source of news and information worldwide for an audience focused on our Washington, D.C. The Internet takes us automatically to a worldwide audience --- we have to work just as hard as any local business to protect and build our franchise in our home market.
Washington DC: I know I'm among those 50 million hits a day, I read this site avidly. I wonder where the money for this site comes from, and how it's supported. Does it help the newspaper as a whole?
Marc Teren: Thanks for making us one of the top online news sites in the world. Long term, the support for the site will come from an ever increasing base of advertisers who are interested in getting their messages, products or service in front of our readers. We provide access to a growing Internet audience for our classified advertisers and worldwide readership for The Washington Post journalists.
Bob Levey: A pet theory to try on you: Part of the pleasure of reading a newspaper is to flip, flip, flip the pages, looking for a surprise to stop you. The same pleasure is possible (in fact, unavoidable) on the Web. Is that a reason why sites such as washingtonpost.com may ultimately inherit scads of newspaper readers?
Marc Teren: For many residents of Washington, Maryland and Virginia, the "daily habit" has become The Washington Post in the morning and washingtonpost.com throughout the day. As more and more loyal Washington Post readers try the site, I think the enjoyment of surprising articles or offerings will be found by an even larger audience. For readers who don't have access to the printed Post, all the stories, a photographic image of the front page and more are online. Keep browsing!
Kensington, Md.: I think this talk-typing kind of conferencing is cool (as long as my boss doesn't look over my shoulder for the next hour) but it sure is slow. Why? What are you doing to speed this medium up? Or should I take up needlepoint while I wait for new messages to appear?
Marc Teren: Every day we are evaluating the "weight" of our pages to assure that we provide the quality look and content with the fastest download time. Other than that, maybe I should forward your message to the big Internet Service Providers. Cable modems, ASDL and other technical innovations on the infrastructure side will certainly speed your access. You're not on AOL, are you?
Half an hour remaining with our guest, Mark Teren of washingtonpost.com.
Bob Levey: The incredible growth of Internet stocks argues pretty strongly for spinning off washingtonpost.com and serving up an initial public offering. Any thought being given to this? If the answer is yes, don't answer for three minutes, so I can call my broker first.
Marc Teren: There is nothing hotter than Internet stocks and the public is buying ---- the biggest argument for going public is to have a "currency" to use in acquisition --- the announced At Home acquisition potential of Excite speaks to this ----$6.7 billion dollars ---- WOW! The thought always crosses our mind --- never more so than today, but don't rush to call your broker.
Fayetteville, N.C.: Do you feel that you and the other employees of washingtonpost.com and newsweek.com get respect in the Washington Post and Newsweek newsroom, or do you feel as if many journalists still see the online ventures as secondary products?
Marc Teren: When a Washington Post reporter does and interview with [former Indonesian president] Suharto, and Suharto tells the reporter he is familiar with his work because he reads it on washingtonpost.com --- we get respect. When [U.N. Secretary General] Kofi Annan in an interview luncheon at The Post tells the editors of the paper and washingtonpost.com that they (the UN mission) read washingtonpost.com in the field --- we get respect.
Bob Levey: The two huge minuses about the Web in general are irresponsible paint-hurlers like Matt Drudge and wall-to-wall kinky sex. You don't see either in a newspaper, or on television. Won't the Web always be considered a second-class citizen if it doesn't clean out (or somehow force out) such "minuses?"
Marc Teren: The Web represents all that we find in the world, good or bad, in one place. This is confusing for many and why search engines and portals have been so important in guiding readers. The fact is that we are all defining our brands today and sites like those we publish will certainly build long-term positions in this medium. Others will find their niche or disappear.
Washington, D.C.: You mentioned that Washington Post online has a "world audience" as well as a core Washington/domestic audience. Do you plan to increase coverage on "world issues" then? The Post is THE newspaper for me, but I find that it lacks depth and a variety of viewpoints when covering news from other countries.
Marc Teren: I'll make sure our editors see your comment. Remember that our mission is focused on those interested in news and events from Washington --- there are great publications that cover other cities and countries as their primary mission --- we are certainly among the best in our national and global coverage among U.S.-based publications.
Philadelphia: I am always STUMBLING across interesting packages on your site, like the tax section. However, I find it very difficult to relocate these items once I return to your site. My point is, there seems to be a lot of things here making it difficult to find what I am looking for. Are you doing any thing to improve this?
Marc Teren: First rule of the Web ---- always bookmark what you know you want to find again ---- I recommend you build a set of washingtonpost.com and Newsweek.com bookmarks on browser. All that said, we are working hard to improve the logic of our navigation and organization. We are a deep, rich site and this is a complex undertaking. Your input is welcome.
San Francisco: This concerns the home page format. Why does it change so frequently? Putting access to all columnists on the home page is a great idea (I'm sure Bob will agree.). But today, for example, there is no ready access to the stock market; Friday there was access.
Marc Teren: Just checked the live site ---- hit reload, it's all there --- stock quotes, columnists and a special Clinton package. Our home page format has been consistent since our last redesign this past summer. Check that WPO stock.
Bob Levey: More on Matt Drudge (even though he doesn't deserve it): Do you think the inaccuracies in his column suggest that everything on the Web is less accurate than what's in a newspaper?
Marc Teren: Certainly there is a new low in "fact-checking" on the Internet. washingtonpost.com adheres to the same standards that have made The Washington Post such a respected publication.
Washington, D.C.: As a student, I use the Post and other online newspapers mostly as a research tool. Aside from the classifieds, I've found some interesting reading through archives, subject-group articles, etc. What other plans do you have for the post to help "researchers" in the future?
Marc Teren: We're working on an exciting new initiative for late 1999, which, if implemented, will clearly set the standard for usability as a research tool. You may want to visit Newsweek.com and check out our Encyclopaedia Britannica / Newsweek Internet Guide --- it will help you cut through the clutter when researching almost any topic.
Bob Levey: In an average month over the last year, washingtonpost.com had more hits per day than The New York Times, more than The Wall Street Journal, almost as many as Playboy (!). But USA Today has an average of three times as many. Why? Sports fans checking scores?
Marc Teren: I don't have all the details on USA Today's online readership --- but I believe they have a lot of traffic around sports scores, stock quotes, etc. --- quick hits that come on the site and then get off. Certainly we intend to be the number one online "newspaper" site --- not sure if our friends down the street in Gannett are looking over their shoulder, if not they should be.
Jamaica, N.Y.: Mr. Teren, with the growth of popularity and access of the web, Internet sites, etc., where do you personally see the future of newspapers, magazines, etc., in about 10-15 years?
Marc Teren: Stronger than ever --- technology works in interesting ways --- Keep watching for innovations that bring print and online even closer together.
Grants, N.M.: I guess this is more of a comment, but living here in northwestern rural New Mexico, I can't tell you what a joy it is to have access to some of the great newspapers of the U.S. The Washington Post is first on my list when I log on each morning. I just hope this availability does not cut down on your printed readership. I'd be so disappointed if the net newspaper was discontinued. Thanks for keeping us connected to the world.
Marc Teren: I know your question was really a comment, but I couldn't help answering it and sharing your thanks with the staffs at washingtonpost.com and The Washington Post.
Bob Levey: As you know, the big headscratcher around The Washington Post is how to grab and hold young readers. Obviously, washingtonpost.com will do that better, at least to some degree. But to how large a degree?
Marc Teren: Young readers are the future of our publications --- print and online. We define the publications of this company for that reader on the Internet ---- Style Live, our arts and entertainment guide is a great example of our commitment to defining ourselves for our current and future readers. We are a publication of the Internet, with a talented young staff and savvy career journalists who put it all together.
Bob Levey: That's it for today. Many thanks to our guest, Mark Teren. Be sure to catch political columnist David S. Broder, who will discuss the president's State of the Union address on washingtonpost.com as soon as I disappear. Next Tuesday, I take a week off. Washington Post defense correspondent Dana Priest will sit in, from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. But I'll be here on Friday, and the following Friday, for "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," our weekly anything-goes program. It appears from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.