The shrinking Washington Post

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Mark D Hamill
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The shrinking Washington Post

Post by Mark D Hamill » Mon Apr 20, 2009 9:12 AM

Lordy, what happened to The Washington Post? Even its Sunday edition is getting skinny. Business section: gone and collapsed into the A section, and half its size. Sports reporting: diminished, lots of tables gone. Comics: 3 pages to 2, and comic size reduced. Metro: local coverage getting much skimpier.

How much longer can they hang on? It seems to me that it is caught in a vicious cycle: the more they prune it, the less reason there is to buy it. However, they don't have the revenue to support the newspaper they were.

Will we be left a one newspaper Washington Times town? I shudder.
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Post by Jim Goldbloom » Mon Apr 20, 2009 13:02 PM

dot com.

It's cheaper than paper and handling payments/subscription. Yes, I will miss the "old days" too.
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Post by Mark D Hamill » Tue Apr 21, 2009 11:04 AM

Washingtonpost.com is a subsidiary of The Washington Post company, however the vast majority of its news is stories in The Washington Post. If the latter ceases publishing, the brand will be a lot less valuable.

It is cheaper on line, but so far I have not found a way to get the same breadth of information that a newspaper provides, and much Net news tends to be topic and lacking the insight of a newspaper.
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Post by Jim Goldbloom » Tue Apr 21, 2009 13:48 PM

I consider that to be a challenge to the industry as a whole to further development of online news repositories. Content is the one thing they have plenty of but organizing and presenting it with modern broadband media technology in mind including PDA's with the tiny screens, when such a magnitude of information is available, is an expensive and complex issue to tackle. Plus the online competition is fierce.
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Post by Mark D Hamill » Wed Apr 22, 2009 10:57 AM

Jim, it will be a challenge all right. I am not sure though that they will succeed in replacing the money stream altogether. Granted with pure electronic publishing there are no costs for newsprint, presses, distributors etc. But newspapers were able to count on substantial ad revenue as well as subscription income. This must have been a lot of money because it allowed The Post to put reporters all over the world and send many of them on pretty much full time business trips. It also provided money to do things like investigative reporting. I am skeptical web ads can pull in that kind of money so we can get that kind of coverage.
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Post by Jim Goldbloom » Wed Apr 22, 2009 17:38 PM

Right, so if the zine site needs money to accomplish those things, they could:

- Sell off assets
- Go public
- Seek private investors
- Merge with or aquire other large corporate entities to strengthen the overall brand and increase access to resources (diversifiy)
- Simply be bought outright by a corporate monster - willing or not.

It's the latter which happens the most, and guess what, we're back to square one with that as the organization becomes a politically biased, far too powerful rogue corporate entity . What began as a fight against The Man becomes one becoming The Man. Capitalism permits this vicious cycle.

The Washington Post parent company chose diversification, as they own Kaplan, newsweek.com and Cable One directly or through its own subsidiaries. Meaning, they're still relatively independent and can spend some venture capital. I'm not saying put that money back into paper news, I mean focus more on a the type of reporting you noted, as well as re-inventing the way news is reported online, i.e. a more customizable, personalized GUI beyond the nice features they have now, and an emphasis on social interaction even more than present. To me, that's the future.

-jim
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Post by Mark D Hamill » Thu Apr 23, 2009 11:49 AM

I suspect washingtonpost.com is profitable, or close to it. The newspaper though, like the NY Times and others, is losing money and it seems likely to lose more money as they keep scaling back content. washingtonpost.com though gets huge numbers of targeted hits and can sell a lot of targeted advertising, but that doesn't mean that it will serve a lot of current news.

The problem may be that the media is so fractured. Take Newsweek and Time. Their news is pretty stale by the time it is published but they offer largely overlapping content, so they are both competing for the same eyeballs. It might be better to have a single electronic newspaper where people select the sources of news they want.

If I had an electronic version of The Washington Post customized for what I cared about (national news, local news, business, comics, reviews) I might be willing to pay for that. It would be a better use of my time. Paging through the site to try to find it may be free, but it is time consuming.
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Post by Jim Goldbloom » Fri Apr 24, 2009 7:26 AM

Breaking news is better handled by the cable news organizations as well as online RSS distribution from the AP, UPI and so on who serve as the hub for such matters. But smaller papers, including online zines, can still do well by focusing on human interest stories, entertainment, editorials, and followup on breaking news stories. It's the interaction which is the key on the latter, I think, and quality writing as to all of the former.

Blogs are not editorials, although editorials can be blogs. We need a correction in perception on that point, and separate the professional yellow journalists from the amateur ones, right? heh

When news becomes mandatory subscription, i.e. not becoming a member to allow customization, I mean access to the site for any news - that'll be a sad day. I'm not saying all news should be free, mind you.

-jim
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Post by Mark D Hamill » Fri Apr 24, 2009 15:01 PM

One thing that annoys me is the perception that news is free. It is not. You just choose how you want to pay for it. Pay for it with lots of annoying web ads. Pay for it by listening to week long marathons on Public TV and Radio. Pay for it by subscribing to a newspaper or magazine. It gets more to our willingness to pay.

Blogs are not our saviors. For the most part they regurgitate and twist what comes from the major news outlets.

TV and radio news is not our savior either as they tend to focus on the news of the moment, and tend to miss the long range perspective.

We can choose not to listen to news and live in ignorance, but that is not particularly wise nor healthy either.
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Post by Jim Goldbloom » Sat Apr 25, 2009 1:03 AM

Once the browsers became friendlier and after the dot com boom during the web 1.0 era online news sites were treated as alternate channel of distribution by their owners. A new and exciting frontier to increase subscriptions, offer additional content and explore advertising and pay per click. As time has gone on, and broadband prices have decreased and computers are now affordable to most households much like television and its growth, the technology has improved and the paper news has begun, slowly, to deprecate. Plenty of hold outs from the old days are still around, i.e. many people still want the NY Times delivered (not just in New York, either) and magazines are still selling briskly. But daily news is shifting, no doubt about it, due to 24hr news services on TV and of course the Internet, both of which can now deliver news instantly (to the detriment, often, of quality and accuracy).

As paper news becomes more and more obsolete, the web sites will adapt and find a way to make money. Good corporations always do, even if the web site is considered a loss leader, a necessary public face, as some are.

One thing is clear - as time goes by, and technology and society changes, change in terms of news delivey is both inevitable and necessary. We don't see job details on Craig's List for "Town Crier" anymore, do we?

-jim
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Post by Mark D Hamill » Sun Apr 26, 2009 14:08 PM

One thing that could help newspapers supply: computers with multiple wide screen monitors. Say you had three monitors standing vertically with page one on the left, page two in the center and page three on the right and pressed keys to browse between pages. This would probably work and monitors and graphics cards are becoming cheap enough. The bandwidth is also there.

Any single screen though is very limiting in the amount of information it can present at one time. Newspapers might want to consider technology to support multiple monitors.
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