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Linton Weeks The Navigator - Live
T R A N S C R I P T

Hosted by Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, March 25, 1999

Thank you for visiting "The Navigator Live." Today's chat ended at 3 p.m. EST.

Doug Feaver, Editor of washingtonpost.com    
Today my guest was Douglas Feaver, editor of Washingtonpost.com. He answered our questions about The Washington Post's Web site and the trials and triumphs of online journalism.

"The Navigator Live" appears each Thursday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern time. It's a live, moderated discussion offering washingtonpost.com users the chance to talk directly to intriguing and sometimes unusual guests who are shaping the digital world. "The Navigator" appears in The Washington Post print edition every Thursday. You can read past columns by following this link.

dingbat


Linton Weeks: Greetings and welcome to another spine-tingling episode of Navigator--Live. Let's get to the questions. Take it away, Doug.


Linton Weeks: Doug, what exactly is Washingtonpost.com? What is its relationship to The Washington Post?

Douglas Feaver: washingtonpost.com at its core is the online version of The Washington Post and is produced by Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Washington Post Co. But the site is more than a regurgitation of the once-a-day newspaper. washingtonpost.com provides regular news updates from a variety of sources, plus original articles from its own staff, articles from Post reporters, an entertainment guide (Style Live) to the Washington area that is useful for residents and tourists alike, intelligent live conversation with experts and Post reporters and editors, an opportunity to shop, to peruse the classified ads, and more.


Linton Weeks: Tell us about yourself. How did you wind up as editor of Washingtonpost.com?

Douglas Feaver: I'm an accident of history. I spent 28 years in The Washington Post newsroom in various reporting and editing positions on the Metro, National and Business staffs. My good friend and colleague Leslie Walker, my predecessor, persuaded me to join washingtonpost.com as the liaison between the Post newsroom, which I knew well, and website, about which I knew very little. Then Leslie decided to return to print journalism and I found myself in this job.


Linton Weeks: Didn't the site just win some kind of award?

Douglas Feaver: Editor and Publisher, a trade group, recently named washingtonpost.com the best overall U.S. newspaper online site with a circulation of more than 100,000 In that competition, our site also won awards for best news online section, best online design and best online classified. Awards are nice, but we know that we have to continue working hard to get better, and even if we get better we might not win more awards.


Linton Weeks: Are you ever faced with conflicts of interest, such as scooping the Post's dead-tree editions?

Douglas Feaver: We are in close contact with The Post's newsroom and we don't scoop it unless it permits itself to be scooped. This happened most notably with the first Clinton-Lewinsky story, which was published on our site about 12:15 in the morning before any papers containing the story were off the press. Our general practice is that if we can publish early a Post story that is common currency in the news business, we'll do so, but that if The Post has a strong exclusive we don't publish until The Post publishes. Typically, much of the next day's Washington Post is available on our site by 10:30 p.m. Eastern time the night before the paper hits the front porch. On a major breaking story, such as we have going right now in Kosovo, we make arrangements to publish major Post stories earlier in the evening.


Linton Weeks: Walk us through one of your typical work days.

Douglas Feaver: The job is very similar to what I did as an editor at the Post. I start the day by looking at what we have on the site and what the competition has on its sites; I meet with our editors to discuss what we expect will happen during the day; I get dragged into innumerable meetings about many different things; I talk to my colleagues at The Post; we review the Post's news budget for the next day and figure out what our plans should be; occasionally I edit a story, and we always are looking at wire services and television to see if there is something else we should put on the site.


Norfolk, VA: I'm a big fan of washingtonpost.com and love being able to read it from Norfolk every morning. BUT, it seems the pages are taking longer to load these days. I notice more ads on the pages, too. Are you working on ways to speed up page downloads?

Douglas Feaver: We worry about download time all the time, and are constantly trying to police ourselves to keep pages light. That's why right now our home page is split in two--so you won't have to load the whole thing. When the news is heavy, as it is right now, the entire Internet slows down and we slow down with it.


Linton Weeks: What are the greatest challenges of Washingtonpost.com?

Douglas Feaver: We face a number of challenges, including figuring out which is the greatest. How do we best meet the needs of both our local and national audiences? What is the best way to present on the Internet--a short-attention-span medium--the kind of in-depth quality reportage that is the heart of Washington Post journalism? How do we take best advantage of what the Internet will let us do that no newspaper can do? For example, we can assemble dozens of articles and photographs and video cuts on a given subject, and not be constrained by the space (or time) limits that apply to both newspapers and broadcasting. And not least of all, there is the long-term question about the business viability of internet news.


Rome, Italy: Dear Doug,

Greetings from Rome from one of your old staff members. First, a compliment -- WP.com is superb. For those of us overseas, it really keeps us plugged in to WDC. Good Work.

Here are a couple of questions for you:

1. Has WP.com eroded readership from the paper version?

2. Does WP.com ever try to avoid "scooping" the paper version on big stories?

Thanks for the reply. All the best, Jeff Rowland
UN World Food Programme

Douglas Feaver: good to hear from you jeff. I answered the scoop question earlier. As for eroding newspaper circulation, we don't think so. Although Post circulation is down very slightly in recent years, a number of new subscriptions have come to the Post through the button on our home page.


Alexandria VA: Can you tell us why you went into Internet journalism and how it differs from all those years you spent writing and editing for The Post?

Douglas Feaver: I joined washingtonpost.com because I thought it would a good opportunity to learn something new. It's as simple as that. The big difference between being an editor on the web site and being an editor in The Post newsroom is this: in the newsroom, I knew how to do everything the people who worked with me and for me knew how to do. At the web site, I am still sometimes baffled by the technology and more dependent, frankly, than I like to be. The journalism questions are the same: Is is right? Is it fair? Are we telling and presenting this story in the best possible way?


Bethesda, MD: What do surveys tell you about who uses Washingtonpost.com? How old are your readers? Predominantly male or female? Etc.?

Douglas Feaver: We have have about 2 million individual users per month; about half of them are from Maryland, Virginia and D.C.; the rest from elsewhere, including about 3 percent from overseas, mostly Europe and Asia. Two=thirds of our users are between 25 and 49 and about 57 percent of them are male.


Woodbridge, Va.: Mr. Feaver:

What suggestions do you have for those who are interested in pursuing online journalism? Does one need to have a background in programming/HTML or is a strong grounding in journalism and writing enough?

Douglas Feaver: A strong grounding in journalism and writing is enough, but it sure doesn't hurt to know some HTML.


Laurel, MD: Is there someone I can e-mail who has the responsibility for updating your online TV grid? I've written before, but the listing of channels for Jones Communications cable in Lanham (Northern Prince Georges County) has been obsolete for months and does not include any of the dozen-or more channels added in the past several months. I love WashingtonPost.com (My Netscape browser opens up to it) and I love the concept of your TV grid, but unless it is updated regularly (something one of your interns could do in an afternoon) it is not realizing its potential. Thanks, Jeff

Linton Weeks: Doug, can you help this viewer?

Douglas Feaver: I'm sorry you're having problems; the best way to address them is to send an e-mail to webnews@washpost.com and spell out the specifics.


Alexandria VA: I used to be a regular in Talk Central and am wondering why washingtontonpost.com doesn't allow its readers to hold their own discussions any more. Is there a shift away from allowing readers to participate directly?

Douglas Feaver: This is in response to two questions I have received about talk central. One of the nice things about the Internet is that we can start and stop things fairly quickly. We have decided that the best space for us in the talk business is to have moderated discussions targeted to specific topics or areas of interest, from cooking to the eyesight problems your pet is having. We hope, in this way, that many people will take the opportunity to participate.


Linton Weeks: Okay, folks. We're about halfway through the hour and the questions are piling up like poker chips. I'm going to take a sip or two of this grapefruit cocktail here on my desk...somewhere... and ship some more of your great questions on to Doug.


Washington DC: What is the primary editorial mission of your online newspaper? I'm wondering how, if at all, it differs from the print edition that I get at home every morning (which I love!) Thanks.

Douglas Feaver: The online version is very much the same product and very different. We reproduce almost everything that appears in The Washington Post, which seeks to be the best possible newspaper, locally, nationally and internationally. We at the website can add value to the newspaper we hope you continue getting at home every day. We can assemble many related articles from past editions that have new pertinence because of breaking news. We can direct you to other places on the Internet that have related information. We can display the great prize-winning photography of the Post staff and of other talented "shooters" in special galleries that would never find room to appear in a newspaper. We can cover an election from stem to stern, and keep all those stump speeches, position papers, campaign contributions and related information available right there at your fingertips. The Internet is a fabulous tool for journalists and their readers.


New Yor, NY: Doug
Do you think the online version of the Washington Post will eventually have a larger audience than the paper version of the newspaper, and if so, when?

Douglas Feaver: Predictions are not my strength, but I think it is a distinct possibility if for no other reason than that Internet use itself is growing strongly. Not only that, but The Post is able, for the first time, to reach a National and International audience in real time. I have no idea when this would happen, if it does happen.


Washington, DC: What editorial guidelines have
you developed for the website
that are different from those
for print journalis

Douglas Feaver: We try at washingtonpost.com to follow the same editorial standards that The Washington Post follows.


Houston, Texas: Let me commend you on the website; it's the first and often only one I read every day. One question: How often is the page updated, and how difficult of a task is it to do that?

Douglas Feaver: The home page is updated an unpredictable number of times a day; we monitor news carefully and make changes as needed. The degree of difficulty is directly related to how much change is made at any one time.


Arlington: Douglas, In terms of breaking news, do you think internet sites break stories quicker than television?

Douglas Feaver: Impossible question to answer because there's no way to monitor all the television possibilities and all the internet possibilities. I know that we have been first sometimes, and 14th some other times. We would rather be first, but we would rather be right than first.


istanbul,TR: what are the differences between online and paper journalism?which one is the easy?

Douglas Feaver: Thanks for the question. I have known outstanding journalists working in broadcast, in print, and now on the internet. I have known some who were less than outstanding. The good ones always work hard, no matter the medium. The differences in mode of presentation, it seems to me, are less important than the underlying integrity of the work.


Washington, DC: How much crossover is there between the advertising and editorial sides at your Web site?

Douglas Feaver: We maintain the same firewall between the advertising side and the editorial side at washingtonpost.com that is maintained in traditional print newsrooms. Advertising doesn't edit the news; journalists don't sell advertising.


Linton Weeks: Breaking news at Washingtonpost.com. A fire alarm has brought us to an abrupt conclusion. Doug's a very bright guy, so he's hightailed it out of there. I repeat, Doug has left the building. But I thank him and the folks at Washingtonpost.com and all of you who sent in terrific questions today. Next week, April 1, I will be on vacation. No fooling. But I'll be back April 8 with another episode of Navigator--Live. Until then...

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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