Ask the Post: Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli

Apr 14, 2011

Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli will be online Thursday, April 14 at 2:30 p.m. ET to take questions about the newspaper, the Web site and the current state of the news industry.

Hello and thanks for joining the conversation

Mr. Brauchli, I have always believed content and presentation is what sells newspapers (and any other printed material). After reading the story this weekend about the popularity of college newspapers, I'm even more convinced. Would you agree that complete stories in the paper, as opposed to chunked bits directing readers to the web, are what keep a reader interested in the newspaper> Besides that, I think many, many readers like the tactile feel of newsprint in their hands. Thank you for this opportunity.

Thanks for the comment. We obviously share your view that it's content, or journalism really, that sells newspapers. The Post has one of the best and largest newsrooms in the country and is committed to delivering the most essential, relevant and compelling journalism. From our online traffic data, we know that good journalism brings in readers. That said, we also have a lot of material that can't be published in the newspaper--video, audio, photo galleries, documents and some truly significant online journalism such as www.topsecretamerica.com that offer literally thousands of different experiences to users. We want readers of the print edition to know about all the additional material we offer online. The print edition isn't a full substitute for all that we offer in our digital editions.

You keep having "video chats" and other videos with no captioning. Those of us with hearing loss are left out of these completely. PLEASE include real-time captioning with every Post video. I've asked four Post senior executives for this now and gotten no help.

You make a good point. I'm not sure how practical it is for us to caption video chats in real time, but we will look into ways of delivering transcripts of video content where we can.

I understand that you do not write the software, buy your site is now significantly less sophisticated for commenters than your online competitors such as Huffington Post and Gawker Media. Is there a way to load comments all at once to avoid endlessly hitting the MORE button? Also many sites have the ability to allow commenters to fix typos for a limited time. This would greatly aid the readability of the comments since the new software no longer has a PREVIEW function. I understand that the commenting system is part of your Methode content management system, but it is significantly short of the state of the art.

Thank you for the question. Our commenting system was developed by Echo and is different from first-generation systems that some other sites use. It allows new comments to flow in to the discussion in real-time, for instance, and permits us to incorporate Twitter feeds in the comment threads. We hope to add a preview function at some point again. Your comments are helpful as we look at how we might or should adapt the software to better serve our readers.

The Post recently introduced a "badge" system to commenters, in what I took to be an attempt to improve the level of discourse at post.com. Would you say there are any signs of that being a success (or not) yet? Seems to me that stories are either attracting no comments, or the same number of slightly crazed comments as before. I'm a news consumer who spends a lot of time at news aggregation sites like reddit, where most of the point of being there is to chat with your fellow users/readers. It doesn't seem to me that the Post has been able to foster much of a sense of community here and I don't know why (the NYTimes comment community is amazing, by comparison). Any reason why the Post online community is different? (Or, am I completely wrong in your opinion...?)

We've badged more than 1,000 readers so far, which suggests that it's gaining traction while still permitting us to publish comments without pre-screening. We also think our new spam filter has had a positive effect on the quality of our comments. We hope that these changes over time will improve the quality of the conversation. And it's worth noting that our comment volume is up significantly in recent weeks, and in general the more active the discussion is, the higher the quality.

I love the Post. Big, big fan. That said, how much longer can I continue to spill coffee on the paper Post in the morning, instead of my laptop? 5 years, 10 years?

Thank you, nice to hear. Economists like to say you should never make a prediction, but if you do have to make a prediction, whatever you do, don’t set a date by which it will come true. So, let me say this: The Post's print edition will be around for many years to come. Our circulation has ebbed in recent years, but our readership remains strong and loyal. Just as the user experience on an iPad is distinct from that on a BlackBerry, so too is the experience of a newspaper distinct from that of those devices or a laptop. Over time, yes, readers will migrate to new platforms. But the comprehensive daily compendium of news, community information and advertising that a newspaper delivers  still works pretty well for many, many readers.

Dear Mr. Brauchli, I have been a subscriber to The Washington Post for 40 years and have reluctantly decided to cancel, due to the recent decisions by your paper to continually publish the vicious and factually incorrect writings of an ever-increasing group of Right-Wing columnists. It is one thing to offer contrasting points of view on current affairs, but quite another to bestow credibility on writings which are filled with deliberate distortions and outright lies. The Washington Post once had a well-earned reputation for journalistic integrity, but it now appears that the pursuit of profits at any cost has become more important than publishing articles and opinions based on reason and facts. Can you give me any reason why I should continue spend my money on a subscription to The Washington Post , money which is now being used to degrade decent public discourse? Sincerely, A subscriber for 40 years.

Thank you for your long loyalty to The Post. I won't speak for the editorial page, which oversees opinion and commentary in The Post, but I would challenge your assumption that we have sacrificed our integrity in any way in our choice of columnists. Our news columns continue to offer the finest nonpartistan coverage of politics, policy, regulation, foreign affairs, the Washington area, education, sports and culture, unaffected by what is published on our editorial pages. 

Why do news organizations including the WP do so many political polls early in an election cycle when voter turn-out often is the decisive factor? Since political polls don't satisfy prerequisites for valid statistical inference, they cannot predict future events reliably. For example, statistical inference theory requires stable populations or sampling environments from which multiple samples are drawn over time for computing reliable error margins. Also poll respondents must be selected randomly with each possible opinion in the population available for sampling. Aren't voters helped more by news organizations focusing on candidates' positions on issues and their approach to problem solving rather than on what a few hundred available people who respond to questions (some of which are badly worded) may say at one point in time? Fallacies of political polling might be revealed if pollsters published their error margin calculation methods for public scrutiny (i.e., transparency).

First, we believe in transparency, and every question we ask is published online, so people can judge for themselves our approach. We do calculate and publish sampling error accounting for the design effect of the landline and cellphone approach we use. Second, we do ask "horse race" questions, but not to predict outcomes. These are snapshots, and usually they are framed by questions about issues and matters that may be of political or popular interest. Finally, political parties do their own polling, and we want to have our own baseline, not rely upon them.

Why do we not get the evening sports results here on the Eastern Shore with our home delivery ? It also seems to me that the Sports section is getting weaker in total coverage.

Your two points are probably related. We print The Post in Virginia, and I believe the Eastern Shore gets our earliest edition because of the logistics of serving your area. So you're not getting the final version of our sports section, which would include late scores and game descriptions. That also might account for your perception about our Sports section. Since you're online, let me suggest that you look at our online sports coverage, which is both comprehensive and quite strong in everything from professional sports to high-school sports.

My impression is there are more space devoted to book reviews than before the Book World section was abandoned. I'd rather see news and features in the space the book reviews eat up.

That's not a sentiment I've heard before. We publish about two-thirds to three-quarters as many book reviews each week as we did before we discontinued weekly publication of a stand-alone Book World section. They remain immensely popular with print readers, and we continue to look for prominent ways of displaying our excellent books coverage in Outlook, Style and Sunday Style.

On Tuesday, I had a brief breakfast after I saw that large picture in the Metro section of a bludgeoned woman boxer. Someone made the decision to run the picture, but I can't imagine why.

Sorry to hear that. We believe in giving readers an honest and complete understanding of the world. That said, we are mindful of readers' sensitivities in our selection of images and stories for the print edition. Generally, we view the print edition sort of the way the FCC might view broadcast television, knowing that kids will see it around the house, and we view our main online edition the way the FCC might view cable. The photos we publish online often are more vivid, and sometimes start with a warning to viewers.

Love having the daily paper available as a PDF! But was disappointed the Civil War special the other day wasn't availabe in that format. I left my hard copy paper at home and then waited til afternoon before the Civil War articles were even posted. Do you think a PDF might still be posted?

Good question. Seems like something we should offer, and I will look into it. An interesting note: the Civil War has proved highly popular with readers. Not only did we get a good response to the two special reports we published, but we've picked up thousands of followers for our daily Twitter feed, #civilwarwp.

I read the Kaplan story with interest. I noticed that many people complaining about Kaplan/The Post in comments under the story were accusing the Post of slanting its education coverage because of that business relationship. This is not a topic I know anything about, but I was wondering if you would care to address that topic.

It' s not true, as any reader of our coverage would know.

Many thanks for joining today's conversation.

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Marcus Brauchli
Marcus Brauchli is Executive Editor of The Washington Post.
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