- Rob Curley
VP, Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive
- Len Downie
Editor, The Washington Post
- James O'Shea
Editor, Los Angeles Times
- Bob Woodward
Reporter, The Washington Post
Is what's going on convergence? Is that an adequate word to use?
It gets used a lot. I think there is a really good battle right now between which buzz term gets more use, "hyperlocal" or "convergence." To me, "convergence" means something different than what it meant three or four years ago. It used to be defined as multiple media -- a newspaper and a television station and a radio station and a Web site working together to best tell a story.
Now "convergence" means a lot of things. My definition of it would be that it means layering all sorts of different storytelling elements together and publish[ing] them either separately or together in multiple platforms. I don't think that was a part of the equation before.
To me it's much more about serving the audience however the audience wants to be served, so that they can have our content whenever they want it and however they want it.
So before it was simply using the different media to tell a story, and now they're integrated.
And if you look at the early, what was called "convergence" before, it was really just cross-promotion: This television station was doing a story, and this newspaper was doing a story, and the television station told its viewers that you could read more about this in tomorrow's paper, and the newspaper would tell its readers you can get more on this story by watching the 6:00 news on Channel 4. To me, that was more cross-promotion -- it wasn't convergence. But it was convergence for that time. ...
This movement of The Washington Post online, is The Washington Post going toward convergence? Is that your future?
Oh, we've converged. If you came over to our newsroom right now, the first thing you would see is our continuous news desk, where every day we do radio. All of our reporters are on Washington Post Radio, a local radio station that we provide all the content for.
You would see reporters and editors sending news as it breaks to our Internet site, washingtonpost.com. You would see reporters and editors being interviewed on camera for television and the television studio we have, ... all of this right in the middle of the newsroom. We are a multimedia newsroom already. ...
We own a Spanish-language newspaper in Washington; we own a free tabloid newspaper that's given away in the subways; we have the printed Washington Post; and we have washingtonpost.com, which has the largest audience of all of our various platforms. ...
And how profitable is it?
It is currently profitable, and its advertising revenue is growing. One of the challenges for the businesspeople, obviously, is making sure that you're able to get advertising on all those platforms, to decide whether or not we're eventually going to charge subscription prices to washingtonpost.com. In time, all of that will have to be decided. At the moment we're sufficiently profitable in these many platforms.
You're not being rescued by Kaplan [the test-prep company that acquired The Washington Post Company in 1984]?
Don Graham, our chairman and CEO, has done a really smart job of diversifying our company as much as possible while staying in the general area of news media and education. Kaplan is a very important part of The Washington Post Company. It's been very helpful to its overall financial health and probably to its stock price. But if the newspaper were still left alone, we still would make a profit.
Enough of a profit?
Enough is in the eyes of Wall Street. I'm a journalist; one dollar is enough of a profit for me, but probably not for our investors.
The Chicago Tribune and the Tribune Company, in the '90s in particular, got into what's called synergy. What's that all about?
That was trying to capitalize on the newspaper and television and the Internet and fusing them. ... It was kind of experimental. Frankly, it didn't work that well, because most of the TV people said the [newspaper] reporters weren't that good on TV. But the idea was to see how much you could capitalize on the newsroom to generate content off of numerous platforms: TV and the Internet and online.
At that time, I think, we were involved in Chicago Online, which was largely putting the newspaper online, but [also], can you take the story that you had for the newspaper, put it online, and then kind of create communities of interest off of that story?
Did it increase the reporting capacity of the newspaper? Did journalism benefit from it?
I think so, in a way. You had wider reach for your stories. You would write a story for the paper, and it would also be on TV, and it would also get on the Internet. ... The people that did it liked the exposure, and they liked that their stories got more exposure. ...
And did it increase the advertising revenue? Was there a way you could increase the economic advantages?
I don't know. I don't think so, because I think we were a bit ahead of our time. The cable television station, CLTV [Chicagoland's Television], is still going, and I think that is making a profit now, but for years it lost money because it was an investment into the news operation; you had to build audience and everything. I can't say that it made money, and in a couple of the ventures, they folded.
In fact, if I recall correctly, Jack Fuller, who was then in charge of the publishing division, is on record that they lost a fortune putting money into the Internet and in the synergy idea, and they ended up losing a ton of money, and that's why they kind of retrenched from online. ...
You were commenting to me earlier about the change in the newsroom. The newsrooms have changed.
Yes, they have. I remember working with Carl Bernstein on Watergate, and we'd do a draft of the story on 6-ply paper through a typewriter, and the copies would go to the editors. They would look at it; they would call us, and they would ask questions. They would say: "Check more sources. Have you done this?" We could work two to three weeks on a story before it would be published. Now if it looks like you have the inkling of an advance on a story, they say, "Can we get it on the Web at 10:00 a.m.?"
What is the consequence of this? The consequence of this can be fatal, and that is we don't spend time against the problem, and good reporting requires weeks, months, sometimes years to get to the bottom of something. If it can be short-cut every moment, we say, "Oh, let's put this on the Web" -- you can't have even a day, let alone a week or month to work on it -- our product is going to be a series of incremental snapshots of what we think might be going on according to conventional wisdom. There won't be confidential sources; there won't be documentation; there won't be this kind of digging that a good story requires.
But we've been around the country. We've looked at what's happening at the L.A. Times for the investors, and the management are saying: "You have to go local to survive. You have to go on the Web. You can't be another New York Times." It appears that the industry is moving in that direction. Is that a bigger threat than the government --?
Some of the industry is moving in that direction, but at The Washington Post, I think the investigative room is bigger than it's ever been, and the commitments by Don Graham, the CEO, and Len Downie, executive editor, is more in-depth reporting. So you can do it. It's expensive, but I think it pays off. We just need to make the payoff a little more evident to the public.