Roadmap to Victory at Washington Post

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Early last month, after the Tribune Company announced that it would enter bankruptcy protection, the conversation surrounding the demise of newspapers and the newspaper industry heated back up. Of course, we suggested that there should be an opportunity for new media to emerge in the newsrooms.

Today, the news comes from the New York Times that Phillip Bennett, the number two man at the Washington Post is stepping down joining the former WashingtonPost.com executive editor, Jim Brady, who also resigned recently.

thewashingtonpostThe Washington Post was one of the early newspapers who tinkered with social media tools in their online offering by utilizing a widget to display links to blogs that wrote about their stories. However, since then, they have not innovated all that much. Sure, they have blogs, but what major newspapers doesn’t? And really, does a blog matter if it isn’t compelling?

If I were on the inside of the Washington Post, I’d offer the following roadmap to a viable business entity.

  1. Combine resources of online and print media. No story should be exclusive to one or the other.
  2. Recognize that the business future does not lie in print and print subscriptions, but in online. Change business model to reflect a more traditional online content network. This is a wide swing from a subscription paper model.
  3. Develop content sharing partnerships with other newspapers. Washington Post has already done this with the Baltimore Sun. Suggest the The Times of London, Sydney Morning Herald or the San Francisco Chronicle to round out other-coastly or international perspective. Not sure how this would be mutually beneficial, but each publication will have its own interests that would need to be examined.
  4. Replace the Op-Ed section with blogs but use syndicated content from external blogs. Eliminate home grown blogs altogether.
  5. Develop online video channel on YouTube and bring into the online WaPo offering.
  6. In a related sense, develop a rich media network of content including podcasts – maybe primarily podcasts, due to the lack of exclusive attention required.
  7. Hire internally, or bring someone in from outside, to help the online business adapt to the new and changing landscape involving the internet and social media. The Toronto Globe & Mail did this with Mat Ingram.

I’d like to throw out one self-serving offer, since I know that there are increasingly a number of newspapers who are watching, reading or otherwise paying attention to our content here – I’m happy to discuss opportunities where I can step in and help. Sometimes that outside set of eyes is what is needed. Drop me a line at aaron@technosailor.com or call me at (410) 608-6620.

Comments

  1. says

    These are great suggestions, @technosailor. Your 7th one reminds me of ESPN hiring a “real” blogger, truehoops.com’s Henry Abbott, and giving him the latitude to blog in authentic, interactive way, with plenty of cross-linking to other nodes of the basketball blogosphere. The result is that ESPN has the best NBA blog out there.

    One problem that his blog and the newspapers like the Washington Post might have in common — overwhelming anonymous commenting. I think the answer is not requiring the user to fork over gobs of demographic data while creating a user account, which is what both ESPN and the WP do.

    Instead, large media organizations should observe the simple blogging convention of allowing commenter’s to enter name and URL, without signing up for an account. This allows commenters to tell the author, and more importantly the readers, who they are, what they do, what they look like, etc… What a great benefit, as a reader, to be able scan a comment thread and pick out the responses from real people; this could help make high-traffic newspaper blogs into places where valuable conversations could start to happen.

    Thanks for the interesting piece,

    - Rowan

  2. says

    Excellent suggestions, Aaron. It’s going to take a long time to catch up but they have the right content, they just need to work on the distribution and focus. In time…

  3. says

    Hi Aaron,

    I stopped by to comment on your phishing post when I saw this one and got happily distracted. You have some great suggestions here. I’ve never understood why the Washington Post put up walls between their print and online operations. Now I’m guessing this historic lack of integration has made transitioning to a new business model more complex.

    I disagree about the Op-Eds, which, for major newspapers, offer much-needed thought leadership. And while I think many of the Washington Post’s blogs wouldn’t be missed, I believe some regional issues (and sports team) are best covered by those who cover them regularly. Though they certainly all need fresh voices.

    Best,
    Daria

  4. says

    great post! furthermore, i think traditional media is still stuck in a “publish or perish” model/process, thusly missing on what social medial delivers, which is converations (one to one, one to many, many to many). any strategy that continues to segregates journalists/editorialists from prosumers – producing consumers – is bound to fail. any strategy that reinforces linkages between journalists/editorialists and prosumers is the way to go. engage, listen, share, communicate, between professionals and the general public is what traditional media needs to learn. as such 4 and 6 from your list seem dead on to me.

  5. says

    Aaron,

    Good post. I was a hard copy subscriber of The Post for many years and recently cancelled. I am probably now just as likely to read Steve Goff’s excellent Soccer Insider blog (which I check a few times a day) as any other content from The Post.

    He is an amazing reporter, and he’s built a very significant readership to his blog (it’s not unusual for some posts to generate 100+ comments, and one recent survey he did had 500+ responses). In addition to covering soccer, he also covers George Mason basketball.

    If The Post could get a cadre of reporters who were as savvy as Steve Goff in building up a readership for their blogs, it would help them make the transition to new media much easier.

    I’ve noticed that The Post now posts many more videos and slides on its website than before.

    I do miss my Sunday paper though!