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New Competition for The Post: Niche Players

By Andy Alexander

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.”

By Andy Alexander  | June 12, 2009; 12:34 PM ET
 
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Comments

Obama fires IG for finding fraud and abuse against millionaire/Friend of Obama athlete, charge filed. Holder drops case against armed Black Panthers at polling place yelling "crackers go home". Holder stops Voter Citizenship checks.

When are we going to have the endless stories about politicization of the DOJ?

Posted by: Cornell1984 | June 12, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

no charges filed against Kevin Johnson, IG fired.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | June 12, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Mr Alexander,

People like Dan Froomkin are the Post's bridge to newer niche media and survival.

Froomkin's aggregations inform readers and provide links to sources while complementing the Post's coverage.

Please help management get a clue. Don Graham may want to talk to Rick Wagoner about how well the head in the sand strategy works in a changing world.

Embrace Froomkin, he is part of the solution for the Post.

Regards,

Cliff

re-post below from your Froomkin blog

Thank you Dan Froomkin. Once again, thank you for all you do. You have been the best the Post has had to offer for 5 years.

We have read you from the start, and loved it. You have daily exemplified the Nieman Watchdog ideals for journalists. You are why our homepages are set to the Post.

You were a lone voice, a lifeline to some of us, during most of Duhbya's reign, but validated by its ignominious end. You made a graceful transition to the Obama administration, demonstrating that telling truth to power is non-partisan. Unfortunately, you have had plenty of fodder. Your blogs are on target today and lastyear.

Now you will have the opportunity to watch as Don Graham's Wash Post follows Rick Wagoner's GM path to collapse. There is no joy in either, but they illustrate evolution. Failure to evolve is fatal.

Mr. Ombudsman, do your paper and its readers a service. Wake up management and get Froomkin a more prominent spot at the Post. Its a twofer, and part of a strategy to save the Post. It generates web traffic as the Post struggles to evolve from newsprint. It provides readers content aggregated to inform, and linked for access to source material.

I've been a Post reader for more than 50 years. My mother worked at the Post in the hot type era. I was an early adopter of Digital Ink. Froomkin and folks like him, are the Post's window to the future.

I've been loyal, but this is it. If Froomkin is cashiered, I am gone too. Graham/Hyatt et al will find themselves left at the Post.

Regretfully,

Posted by: cliff6 | June 19, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

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