New Competition for The Post: Niche Players
My Sunday column will look at concerns among Post staffers that quality will suffer as The Post enters a critical period of major internal changes.
Beginning this month and extending at least through the end of the year, the staff is being further thinned through a buyout, a major newsroom reorganization is being implemented and The Post’s Web site (now housed in Northern Virginia) will be integrated into the downtown headquarters. All this comes on the heels of previous buyouts and painful decisions on cutbacks in coverage and space for news in the paper.
It’s a lot to take on all at once. The Post management, however, has little choice but to press for change at breakneck speed. The company's newspaper division, dominated by the flagship paper, reported a $53.8 million first quarter operating loss. At the same time, its online publishing arm, mainly washingtonpost.com, reported an 8 percent decline in revenues in the first quarter.
For my column, I asked dozens from The Post’s newsroom – from department heads to young reporters – to confide their concerns about all the changes. Repeatedly, I heard that staff reductions hurt The Post’s journalistic competitiveness.
It’s true, of course. The Post has been hurt by departures of some veteran talent. More generally, recent years have seen a sharp reduction in the number of reporters covering Washington for mainstream media. Entire Washington newspaper bureaus have been shut down (including the one I formerly ran for Cox Newspapers).
Providing quality coverage of key Washington beats – the White House, Congress, the federal bureaucracy, politics – remains a high priority for The Post, which traditionally has seen its competition as other mainstream news outlets in the nation’s capital.
But the real competition today is coming from a variety of new players offering niche products. As the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism said in a report earlier this year, “as the mainstream media have shrunk, a new sector of niche media has grown in its place, offering more specialized and detailed information than the general media to smaller, elite audiences, often built around narrowly targeted financial, lobbying and political interests.”
Consider coverage of Congress. There was a time when it was dominated by traditional players like The Post and the Associated Press. Today, it’s CQ, whose Web site boasts: “CQ has the largest press corps covering Capitol Hill.” Under the umbrella of Congressional Quarterly, Inc., they’re offering a vast array of niche products that cover everything from energy to the budget.
As Pew noted in its report, CQ has the largest number of journalists accredited to the congressional press galleries. “Its 149 reporters eclipse the number of Hill-accredited journalists at the Associated Press (134) and congressional staffers dealing with accreditation say CQ has since surpassed even the hometown Washington Post in numbers. A decade ago, CQ had 40.”
| June 12, 2009; 12:34 PM ET
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