Great piece at NY Mag about the reinvention of the Washington Post, including some fine-grained reasoning on just what is or isn’t clickbait.
“Some Post journalists worry that the Amazonian values of growing an audience by giving the customers what they want could conflict with journalism’s civic mission to report on unpleasant truths. “There’s gallows humor: Are we selling our soul for traffic?” says one longtime Post staffer. Veteran Post journalists have been spared traffic quotas, but junior employees who blog for the website feel the pressure to produce with great frequency. Baron disputes the criticism that the Post has employed so-called clickbait to juice readership. “The way I would define it is, it has a headline that tries to trick you to read the story and when you get to the story there’s nothing of any substance. I don’t think we have any of that,” he says. “I know what’s generated the traffic here. And it isn’t clickbait.” Clickbait or not, it’s clear that the Post is playing a volume game, publishing a vastly higher number of stories than its competitors. According to a recent analysis, the Post, which has a newsroom of about 700, generates 500 stories per day, compared to 230 at the Times, whose newsroom has about 1,300 employees. That’s also about twice what BuzzFeed publishes daily.”
The whole thing is worth reading; makes the point that in addition to the gee-whiz stuff, there is an old story, namely an immensely rich person buying and retooling a newspaper.
Martin Baron, the recently installed executive editor of the Washington Post, now a bauble of Jeff Bezos, of course, has set his sights on improving the paper’s digital activity. The Post embraced digital early: In the mid-90s, then publisher Don Graham took the web seriously and did good work. But he did it as a separate unit, and in later years the governance and mission of digital, particularly when it was merged back into the paper seemed to foment such a mess that it became unfocused and lost ground. The paper’s not doing very well overall, either. Today’s site and related blogs aren’t much to write home about, and some of the Post’s stars in any format, like Ezra Klein, are leaving to do their own blogs. Digitally nimble is not an attribute of newspapers, or any big media, and the idea of a “start up” culture within it leaves me, a former news researcher there, scratching my head. But I wish them well. Baron did some similar things at the Boston Globe, his previous captaincy. Decent, if not amazing results. Presumably Bezos has a vision that this is only a small part of.
Here is Martin Baron’s full email tipped by Poynter Institute, a group that does professional development for journalism and also covers the industry.
As we put the final touches on the budget for 2014, I want to share our plans for a set of exciting initiatives. This will be a year of impressive investment in The Washington Post, with the primary goals of growth and digital transformation.
Recent announcements have offered a hint of what’s in the works.
We just announced that Adam Kushner, executive editor of the National Journal, will head a new digital initiative for online commentary and analysis. We now begin hiring for his team.
Before that, we announced that Fred Barbash would return to The Post from Reuters, where has been running White House and congressional coverage. He’ll head up an overnight staff to assure that readers have the most comprehensive, engaging reading experience when they wake up every morning.
We announced that Jim Tankersley, one of the best economics writers around, would lead a digital initiative, driven by data and narrative storytelling, that explains complex public policies and illuminates their human impact. We are hiring for that team while continuing our years of robust and enthusiastic investment in Wonkblog (and its most recent spinoff, KnowMore).
We also have announced some staff additions to The Fix blog and our politics strike force, key elements of our online political coverage. We have some more hiring to do. Altogether, our staff of politics reporters will grow by five early this year.
Along with the new writers we’ve introduced for Reliable Source, Helena Andrews and Emily Heil, we’re giving it a strong digital presence. That includes adding a staffer to produce Reliable Source video.
That is just a start.
We are hiring writers to author “verticals” on a wide array of subjects. These blogs will both deepen our reporting in The Post’s traditional areas of concentration and broaden the range of subjects we cover. Last year, we added highly popular blogs such as The Switch and GovBeat, complementing other policy-oriented blogs like WorldViews and Wonkblog. Some of our current blogs will get additional writers, enhancing our national and world report, and all of them will work with an expanded staff of photo editors and data visualization specialists. We’re hiring now for the additional graphics and photo staffers.
We also will embark on a long-planned site redesign that should improve load speeds and navigation while enhancing the overall reader experience. That will involve new hires. The Universal News Desk also will add to its staff to make sure that we are doing everything possible to engage readers when they come to the site.
Beyond the new overnight crew, we will create a breaking-news desk that will operate from 8 a.m. until midnight. Reporting to Justin Bank, it will position us to jump on the most captivating stories of the day at lightning speed.
Print is in the picture, too.
This spring, we will introduce an expanded Sunday magazine, bigger in dimension and in the number of pages, with a new design and a range of new features. This spring also will see us introduce a Sunday Style & Arts section that makes a forceful and elegant statement about our strengths in those areas.
You can tell that there is a lot going on. And there’s more than I mentioned. We can’t talk about everything just yet.
This is a news organization of extraordinary achievement. It is home to journalists of immense talent and dedication. With these initiatives, we can all look forward to a future of great promise.