Washingtonpost.com on Wednesday night launched separate home pages -- one for the local audience, and one for national and international users -- as part of an effort to make the paper more relevant to readers and advertisers.
The home page will feature a different mix of stories depending on the Zip code readers submit when they register at the site.
About 80 percent of the 8.5 million unique visitors to the site each month are from outside the Washington area, said Tim Ruder, vice president of marketing for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. He added that local readers return to the site more frequently and linger longer.
Both versions carry much of the same content. But yesterday morning, for example, local users were greeted by a lead photo of a Washington area graffiti artist called Borf and a story about local transit security. By contrast, out-of-towners saw a lead photo of Israeli border police in the Gaza Strip and a story about the London bombings.
Dual home pages are rare among regional newspapers, said Rob Runett, director of electronic media communications for the Newspaper Association of America, an industry trade group. Among the few U.S. papers that enjoy a local and national following, such as the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, so far only The Post has set up separate home pages for different audiences, he said.
Many newspapers, including The Washington Post, offer online readers other ways of personalizing their news such as e-mail alerts and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, which allow users to collect headlines and news summaries from RSS-enabled sites on topics of their choosing. But such tools do not appeal to everyone. A November 2004 Pew Internet & American Life Project study found that only 5 percent of Internet users -- 6 million to 7 million people -- use RSS feeds.
At The Post, the split home pages mirror ongoing efforts on the print side to make the paper relevant to readers. Like most major dailies, The Post has been losing subscribers for the past 10 years. As of March 31, The Post had an average weekday circulation of about 750,000 subscribers, a 2.7 percent drop from the year before.
To maintain reader interest, The Post has stressed localism, zoning sections and even the front page by geographic area.
Zoning, however, ignored the needs of The Post's growing out-of-town audience, which primarily accesses the paper online, Ruder said. "A story about the Springfield interchange doesn't resonate with international users," said James M. Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com.
At the same time, a more localized home page "gives us an opportunity to provide more content and navigation tools for local matters," said Washington Post Publisher Boisfeuillet Jones Jr. "It doesn't mean either [audience] will be deprived."
For advertisers, twice the number of home pages means twice the real estate for ads, said Caroline Little, chief executive and publisher of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. "We have a lot of classified advertising that our local users want, and [the new arrangement] gives us more space to provide that content," she said.
Analysts hailed the move as forward-looking and potentially lucrative if washingtonpost.com can charge advertisers more.
But Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, said The Post also has lost something. "What The Post is doing today is a recognition that the balance of power has shifted to users who can choose the way they receive news . . . that they're not entirely in charge of how people get their news anymore."