Oct 18, 2010

The Post's Raju Narisetti takes your questions about the newspaper, the Web site and the current state of the news industry.

I'm a long-time reader of the Post, both of its dead-tree version and its online version. There's something that happens all the time on the web site that is annoying (and annoying readers is generally not a good business plan).

There's a running sort of teaser line above the first article on the main page, rotating between a story on the local page, one on the political page, etc.

Sample from this morning: "Major Beltway accident causes Beltway mess in Md."

Quite often, when you click on the link looking for the story, you are taken to the local page, where the article in question is nowhere to be found.

If I'm lucky and feel like taking the time, I can scan the page for something that looks like it might be the article in question. But sometimes it is just not there.

Last night there was a teaser about gamers...when I followed the link there was nothing on the local page about gamers. Nothing. I found it in the paper this morning, but really, this is too much work.

Thank you for this comment. I agree with you that when we point to a headline on our homepage for you to click, you should be able to find that story in the page that you have clicked through to. Our general rule is either that headline clicks through to the full article page or when the story is in the opening screen of a section front (postpolitics.com or postlocal.com) and prominent, we can send readers there as well since it is always possible the story has multiple elements displayed on that section front. We will try and make sure we enforce this rule so you don't have to go looking for the article you thought you clicked on.

Mr. Narisetti:

In a Post online chat a few months ago, I told outgoing Post media critic Howard Kurtz that the Post appears determined to have the words "Sarah Palin" appear on the home page as many times as possible, given that she excites such fervor among those who adore her and those who despise her that her name generates click throughs, which generate ad revenues.

Kurtz, to his credit, admitted my contention had some merit.

But there is a limit.

The piece published in Outlook this weekend, "Five Myths About Sarah Palin" was written by her biographer, who presumably is not a model of journalistic neutrality, and who is employed by Bill Kristol, the first member of the journalistic establishment to begin shilling for Palin in 2008.

I have to ask myself, is there a limit to how the Post will pander for clickthroughs? A reader since 1966, I am beginning to think not.

The Five Myths About..series is one of our most popular weekend reads in print and online and has been an ongoing feature for a while. Sometimes it is about a topic (deficits) or a person (sarah palin, this week) or a company/service (Facebook). The editors of Outlook pick people who they think are best able to deal with the myths out there. As for seeing Sarah Palin all the time on our web site, I suspect it is a function of midterm elections, her popularity (or lack of) and sometimes because of her daughter's dancing. Sarah Palin is in the news a lot, whether we like it or not.

Could you explain when it's relevant to a story to report on the racial composition of a crowd? For example, when reporting on the "Tea Party" rally, the Post described the crowd as "overwhelmingly white." However, when reporting on events held by liberals, e.g., Obama's speech shortly thereafter in Madison, Wisc., the Post ignores how white that crowd was. Isn't this a double standard?

The composition of the crowd is often not relevant at all to many events. It is relevant depending on the nature of the rally/event and where it is held. Given the overall demographic profile of Wisconsin, if the audience wasn't composed mostly of white people, then it would have been a fact worth pointing out to our readers, I suspect.

We do have guidelines, internal debates and checks and balances about these issues.

The newspaper/magazine industry is said to be in doldrums since well... cheap content distribution became flavor du jour.

Have there been layoffs at Wa-Po, cuts in freelancer budget?

AOL (Seed), Yahoo (Shine) etc have started their own content creation sites, does Wa-Po plan something similar?

I am not sure we can blame "cheap content distribution" as the reason why the newspaper/magazine industry is in doldrums. There has never been a better time to be in journalism given the record number of people who are consuming news overall. The problem is a business model problem coupled with a pretty severe recession, a bit of a double whammy with no easy solutions.

Like other media organizations, we have had our share of financial troubles in the past couple of years and the newsroom continues to try and do its share (sometimes more, sometimes less) to help the overall organization. We have reduced our overall staff to try and keep up with our overall business (revenue) size while trying to make sure that we cut more in areas that may not be adding a lot of value and try and preserve as much funding as we can for content creation. It is a "work in progress" but at 600 plus news staff, partnerships with other content creators and a robust freelance/outside contributors budget, we  think we still put out a good website and newspaper every day.

I know the WP has the NFL football line almost everyday in the paper. As a WP weekly subscriber, I would like to see the top 25 college line in the paper also.

Raju, what are my odds of that?

Thanks for the suggestion. I will ask Matt Vita, our sports editor. Feel free to also drop him a note at vitam@washpost.com so he can respond directly to your request as well.

Why must the reader endure the obnoxious large Web ads that are prominently placed over the lead story, and then stretch across the length-wide margins virtually obscuring the headline news? It's just plain frustrating and a real nuisance to the reader.

I have noticed this on several other online versions of large metro newspapers. I'm presuming it's because the advertisers are paying for prominent placement like they once did on print double-truck ads or above the masthead. But back in the day it was a definite no-no to obscure the news.

You will probably see a few more of them in the fourth quarter (Oct-December), which tends to be a period when companies spend a significant portion of their advertising budget. At the Post, I ultimately have to sign off every time such an ad is put on our website and ever so often will say no to something that is overly intrusive to the reading experience.

The reality is that free newspaper websites have to generate enough advertising to support the news gathering and production teams/infrastructure we have in place. So it is a bit of give-and-take on that front.

I agree that, sometimes, innovation in advertising can simply mean more intrusive advertising. Which is why as an industry,  business folks in newspapers need to work more closely with advertisers to come up with advertising that is appealing and interesting.

In the long run, advertising can't drive away readers so it is in everyone's interest to have smart, creative ads that engage and appeal than just drive you to another site. And I must also confess that ever so often, I do come across such ads (known sometimes as takeovers or roadblocks) that are rather engaging for me as a reader.

Any plans for an iPad app?

From your lips to the iTunes store via Apple's approval process. Soon.

I was in New York the other weekend and my mother-in-law showed me how she was no longer getting the paper version of the NYTimes; instead, she was paying for online access in a very readable, ad-free format.

She was using a laptop, but the content was clearly formatted to be read on an iPad and perhaps a Kindle. She said it was about $5 a week and she was very happy with it.

One of the reasons she likes it is, without the flashy graphics of ads, the content is presented in an attractive, well-designed, uncluttered way.

I am finding the online Post harder and harder to read because it's too cluttered, and I would be interested in seeing the Post offer a similar readable online version. Any chance of that?

Hi. NYT does have a good ereader and am glad your mother-in-law is willing to  pay for content online. There are a couple of ways to get Post content online beyond our web page. If you go to the bottom of the homepage you will see a link for e-replica. That is a good visual, digital presentation of daily Post content that you can subscribe to and get it as email and also read on your computer.  We are also going to come out with Post iPad app before the end of the year, in case you are leaning toward going the tablet route.

Any comment regarding the Washington Post/GLAAD fracas on Twitter last week?

I think there is enough of a robust debate on the On Faith section of our website about the actual topic itself.

As to the fracas, it stemmed from an unnecessary response from our end by an enthusiastic staffer, one that has since spurred us to make sure everyone in our newsroom understands Post guidelines on letting our audiences speak their mind without unnecessary rebuttals. So a good outcome internally even if we took a bit of heat out there.

Dear Mr. Narisetti,

Your column On Leadership was always interesting and it was something I enjoyed reading.

However, since the paper was reorganized and the link to On Leadership removed from the front page, it has proved impossible to find it unless there is a link on the front page. Please arrange for this to be rectified.

Thank you.

Thanks, though much of the credit for On Leadership goes to Steven Pearlstein, whose brainchild it is. As we add more content to washingtonpost.com, there is more competition for promotional links on the homepage. It is still very easy to find under Discussions and we almost always post the videos very prominently on our home page. But the easiest way for you to read it would be be bookmark this url:

http://views.washingtonpost.com/leadership/

so  you can always get to it. And if you haven't been there recently, do check out PostLeadership, our newsy blog by Jena McGregor. The blog gives you lots of reasons to go to On Leadership each day, even when there is no video interview or Steve's column.

Is there a reason the Post is ignoring the smartphone with the most sales in the first 6 months of this year?

No reason other than wanting to prioritize. As more Android-based smart devices start coming out we will definitely be there with apps. Our mobile website m.washingtonpost.com is rather good and remains a popular mobile (or wap) site to use with smart phones including Blackberries.

Was the Wash Post pleased with the O'Malley - Ehrlich debate at your offices last Thursday? Will you hold more debates or televised panels in the future?

Thanks. That was the second of the big local political debates we hosted this year under our new Washington Post Live conferences and events business, the first being a key Fenty-Gray debate. I thought both went off well and generated news and debate, a key reason for the Post to want to host these two political debates. But I am biased as Mary Jordan,  the terrific Washinton Post Live editor who pulls these together reports to me :-) So, why don't you tell us (jordanm@washpost.com/narisettir@washpost.com)  what you thought of the debate?

I would like to know why most of the daily discussions of serious issues have been discontinued in the last few months. The only daily discussion left which is about politics is a three times a week one with Chris Cillizza which is pretty inane most of the time.

I am sorry you feel that way. We still continue to host many chats and probably host the most number of chats with our readers than most major papers. We did discontinue many (just as we continue to add) but those decisions were based on how the chats were faring over a period of time. If there were specific "serious" issue chats that you are missing, would love to hear from you. Send me an email at narisettir@washpost.com. I can't promise they will come back but will give it serious consideration depending.

There are days when I look at your Web site, and see "hot topics" like Justin Bieber splashed across the top bar, and video clips of "Dancing With the Stars," and I think that Katharine Graham must be spinning in her grave.

I respect that you are doing what you think you have to do to survive, and all those distraction-seeking Internet "eyeballs" help your bottom line. But why is that the New York Times doesn't seem to be sacrificing its dignity in the process?

Hot Topics is meant to flag topics that people are searching for on the web, essentially searching for content about those topics. Running that banner is meant as a service to our web audiences and we also find that those topics are clicked and audiences find what they were looking for more easily. And sometimes it helps people discover news/content simply because they didn't realize something was happening and were curious enough to click on a name or event in Hot Topics to find out what is going on.

Putting a Hot Topics banner (and as I type this, the hot topics on wp.com are Philippines typhoon, Chandra Levy, Bill O'Reilly, Rutgers, Facebook privacy and Mad Men) doesn't mean we are dumbing down Post journalism or not doing what the Post newsroom sets out to do each day.

The best thing we can do for Katharine Graham's legacy is to have a successful Washington Post--in print and online--so we can carry on the same journalistic traditions that have governed our company since she ran it.

We have a role to play as gatekeepers in this era of information overload. But we also have a role to play as "gate openers" and helping audiences that come to our website find content they want and sometimes need to find. Whether they will read such content is up to the readers. But we have to make it easy for them to find it and Hot Topics is one more way of doing it.

And pound for pound, happy to measure WP dignity against NY Times dignity or any other serious media organization's diginity on the web. Any day.

I noticed that you recently stopped having summaries for all but the top story on the homepage. What brought about this change? The introduction of errors in writing those summaries? A desire to have more links "above the fold"? Something else?

I certainly understand wanting to limit errors, but find a bundle of links far less useful in determining if I want to learn more than a human-written summary.

Thanks.

Thanks for noticing this. As we head into a redesign of our homepage, we are doing various tests on what kind of headline/summary (or blurb) approaches are most appealing to our audiences. It is a test that has been going on for a short period and we plan to evaluate what seems to be working best in terms of putting Post journalism in front of our readers. This approach is not set in stone until we have more data from our readers. Your feedback is much appreciated.

Most industries favor the regular customer, but The Post seems to penalize the daily delivery reader. For example, there is NO information in the Post about Sunday television programming other than morning talk or sports; nothing about the prime time schedule (as on other days) unless you pay extra for the TV Week.

Hi. This was a decision made a year or so ago based on both business and audience needs. In a difficult economic environment we do need to make some decisions on how best to use our resources. And it turns out that a majority of our print readers were actually not using the printed TV guide amid all the onscreen guides. We ended up with a decision to charge a very nominal amount for those who want it and not waste paper and resources for those who don't need it and have said so.

I realize that writers are free to describe their subject with words they think appropriate; but I keep getting the sense that this is going into more of a propaganda mode.

Words conveying weakness, indecisiveness, or the inability to produce something that requires years(!) to achieve are used in a manner to discredit people when, in fact, they are doing great jobs.

I hope there will be more review of these subliminal, or in other cases, clearly obvious indicators of weak research and journalism -- as opposed to conveying a more full assessment of exactly what it takes to get things done in the government.

Has any research been done regarding use of vocabulary expressing incompetence, weakness, etc., and accuracy? Or whether there is a balanced reporting of issues regarding both parties? (+TP?)

Thanks.

Reporters are taught to show not tell so that more readers can find their content engaging. Sometimes, in doing this, reporters (and even editors) can get carried away and end up using words that might bias a reader. Hopefully the two or so sets of eyes that read most stories in the Washington Post can catch the more obvious (even if unconscious) biases that a particular phrase or word might convey. We spend a lot of energy on bias and accuracy. I am not aware of any research specific to the use of vocabulary at the Post.

Raju, Thank you for taking my question. Why are there so few political reporters hosting chats? Other than The Fix and Robinson, there are more fluffy celebrity things. Why? Are page views that important?

In an election year like this one, it isn't easy to schedule a lot of chats given the volume of political reporting and writing. Overall our chats do well and our political (columnists, writers, opinion writers) attract a large audience. So we wouldn't do less with them if page views were the only driving force. Audience engagement and growth are factors we consider in having regular chats but we are always looking for chats that are simply pegged to news than have a weekly chat that could sink or swim based on what might be happening that day. So less fixed chats and more topical chats is my general approach. And, yes, some of our best chats are about celebs.

I find errors in stories I read on an average of once a week. Most of the time I cannot find a way to submit these errors I find to anyone who can quickly fix them and just post the problems in the comments section. This doesn't seem the best way to fix the issues. Is there a better way to submit errors?

In print, every day we list an email (corrections@washpost.com) and a phone number on Page 2.

Online you can use the Contact Us link at the bottom of the home page. You can also contact the Ombudsman from a separate link also at the bottom of the home page.

 

About once every two weeks, I get a pop-up alerting me to some news story (this one, included). I always click "permanently opt-out."

It always comes back.

What is the Post's definition of permanent, exactly?

Should be permanent. Can you send me an email at narisettir@washpost.com and I will see if we can't fix it for good.

How is the 3-4 month old Capital Business Monday supplement doing? When will you give it to 20-year subscribers for no extra charge?

Doing quite well from all the feedback we get from readers. As a new publication, we still have some ways to go to build up its circulation but since the content is good and well liked so far, we remain hopeful.

No but it comes at a big discount for subscribers. We didn't divert Post staff to publish Capital Business so do need the revenue to fund what I think is a much needed local business publication that gives a lot more context and depth and range than you continue to get in the Post.

Has the Post considered going to a fee-for-subscription format for the online paper to boost revenue (and hopefully boost content). It seems that a lot of what is offered nowadays is, for lack of a kinder word, fluff.

Even the chats are trending toward fluff such as on television shows, gossip, letters from the lovelorn, and more television shows. Useful chats such as those offered on employment issues are no longer.

I would gladly pay a subscription (think WSJ and FT) to get a superior product. Thanks in advance.

Like most media organizations we continue to look at ways to monetize content online so that we can continue to provide all the great content that people expect from a brand like the Post. Lots of ways to do it and lots of hurdles and complications as well but thanks for volunteering to pay for an online subscription. For now, enjoy it free. But hopefully soon, I would find a way to give you lots of value online and take your money as well!

Looks like my time is up. As always keep the questions coming and thanks for taking the time to engage with the Post. Much appreciated. Talk to you again soon.

Raju

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Raju Narisetti
Raju Narisetti is a managing editor of The Washington Post.
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