City Paper reported today that The Washington Post is offering retirement buyouts, and is merging their online operations with the web operations. It’s pretty apparent that the media portion of the Washington Post Company is simply not doing so well. And I can think of a number of reasons why, and how they can change.
The environment has changed so much because of blogs. No one believed blogs would be the dragonslayers that they are. They provide free content with real, unedited voices, admittedly a little less fact-checking, and update as information happens.
1. Effective ad revenue generation – Naturally the response is to free up the content behind the firewall. NY Times and WSJ were some of the last stalwarts to do it. While in some ways this does open up opportunities for advertising, it is not engaging and most people have learned how to screen it out. Even contextual advertising is somewhat ineffective and is distracting and upsetting. The model that Salon and the Economist used of viewing an ad is probably one of the most effective ad methods I’ve noticed. But at the same time, it requires compelling content to make it worth sitting through. Soo…
2. Stodgy, old feature writers – NY Times is lucky, it will always be recognized as a paragon of style, and people will sit down with the print version on a Sunday morning. The Post, not so much. Their feature writers are generally boring and don’t recognize new trends if it pimp-slapped them and left its mark on their face. Not to mention, they’re expensive. Word is that they’re cutting back on freelancers in order to maintain the staff that already exists. Solution? Hire freelancers. The reality is, with blogging, they’re now a dime-a-dozen and would be happy to get paid. And you don’t have to pay for their benefits. The variety and lack of job security is sure to bring a breath of fresh air and a glut of new content to any paper. Don’t say there is nothing to write about – DCist always manages to find something interesting.
3. Quit ignoring your free daily. Guess who’s generating the advertising revenue? The Express, the free daily that EVERYONE reads EVERY DAY. It doesn’t rely on click-through rates, but like the regular paper – on circulation. And guess what has more print circulation? Try sharing content. It’s pretty obvious that some of the feature writers at the Post either ignore reading other articles on their beat and think it is below them or they just happen to like stealing other people’s ideas and work. Get a clue about your competition. And QUIT STEALING! Yes, I am looking at you. Internet links exist for a reason. And watch it because what goes around comes around.
4. First person is good, and people like snark. In a feature situation, not every article has to be pure reporting. Readers want to feel engaged in a conversation – not just in a chat – but in an article. Guiding someone through an experience employs one of the more powerful rhetorical styles, pathos. And lose the extreme editing. People like snark or at least… wit. We’re a jaded society. Just watch any 80′s sitcom and you realize how much less innocent we are, how we find it takes so much more for up to be compelled to laughter or any form of emotion.
Some of these are slightly contradictory, and vaguely evil. I’ll admit it, but it makes the point that The Post has a long way to go on improving their content.