Can The Washington Post Salons Be a Good Thing?
Last week's salon fiasco wasn't a particularly happy period around these parts. The Washington Post really shouldn't need lobbyists for the health-care industry to act as our ombudsmen. But good things can come out of bad things. And this pronouncement from publisher Katherine Weymouth strikes me as a good thing:
We have canceled the planned dinner. While I do believe there is a legitimate way to hold such events, to the extent that we hold events in the future, large or small, we will review the guidelines for them with The Post's top editors and make sure those guidelines are strictly followed. Further, any conferences or similar events The Post sponsors will be on the record.
Italics mine. I'm actually excited about that prospect. Holding long and informed conversations with newsmakers and expert and then posting the transcripts is the sort of thing newspapers should actually be doing a lot more of.
Indeed, I don't think print organizations have done a particularly good job utilizing the vast acreage offered on the Internet. For all the complaints about the media's reliance on off-the-record interviews -- complaints I don't really share -- the reality is that reporters do plenty of on-the-record interviews as well. But readers don't see much of them. At best, they see a line or two of quotation in the final story. If the subject wasn't particularly pithy, they frequently don't even see that.
Historically, there was a good reason for this stinginess. If you conducted seven 30-minute interviews for an 800-word story, there simply wasn't room to post the full transcripts of every conversation. But with the Internet, there is room. Plenty of it, in fact. Posting the full text of an interview with the deputy secretary of agriculture online doesn't mean that there is less space for a story on the Justice Department. It just means there's additional content for readers who want to know more about food safety regulations.
One of the questions with this, of course, is why it isn't happening already. After all, the interviews are already being conducted and, in many cases, transcribed. The concept is, by this point, pretty widespread. But my sense is that there's a quiet suspicion that most readers aren't that interested in long interviews and links to research papers and transcripts of events. The job of the newspaper, after all, is to condense. To make the news fit the lives of busy people. Not to drown them in content.
And that may still be the work of the newspaper. But as my paycheck proves, the newspaper is now just one of The Washington Post's products. And other products -- like the online site -- might appeal to different sorts of readers with different needs. And given the unlimited space of the Internet, and the fact that we're already producing a lot of these interviews and finding a lot of the relevant research anyway, there's no reason not to serve these readers, too.
Plus, these readers might be able to serve you back. The readers likeliest to need more information on topics like, say, health-care policy, are probably the readers worth the most to advertisers, and that makes them worth the most to our business model, too. And if one paper was a lot better than all the other papers at securing the attention of these "deep" readers, if it had the most regular procession of discussion transcripts and the most searchable interviews and the best collection of primary sources, that could probably translate into a hefty advantage down the road.
And if that all works, then who knows? Maybe these salons could be profitable after all.
Posted by: sphealey | July 6, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: GoozNews | July 6, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jwerth | July 6, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jimjaf | July 6, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.