WaPost digital ME: ‘I actually wish it were true that we have too much innovation’

In his most recent column, Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton wondered whether “there’s just a bit too much innovation, too fast” at the paper. He cited two emails to suggest at least some readers feel the same way.

Pexton also said some Post staffers “feel as if the innovations are just tossed against a wall to see what sticks, without careful thought as to which of them will enhance and shore up The Post’s reputation and brand.”

He concluded by telling the paper: “Take a breather lap, Post.”

Pexton’s column quoted Raju Narisetti, the Post managing editor who oversees online. Now that he’s had a chance to read Pexton’s thoughts, I asked Narisetti for his reaction to the idea that the paper is suffering from innovation overload.

“As one of very few papers left with an Ombudsman who works out of a newsroom but has independent views and an Opinion column, I respect Mr Pexton’s perspective because, at the end of the day, we both what to do what is good for the Post’s readers,” Narisetti said.

That said, he does disagree.

“As someone who has led Post’s digital content initiatives over the past three years, I actually wish it were true that we have too much innovation at the Post,” he said by email. Narisetti’s full reply:

If anyone, inside and outside The Post, thinks that in 2012 we have a choice between status quo and offering readers compelling news experiences, they are either unwilling to accept the competitive reality facing American newsrooms and journalism, or hankering for a fat and happy past that will never return.

The fact that washingtonpost.com ended 2011 with an all-time-high number of readers who have read more Post journalism this past year than ever before in its 135-year history, and kept coming back to our content in record numbers, is a clear indication that we remain a compelling choice for digital audiences that could go anywhere that they want.

The Post’s future is going to play out at the intersection of technology and content because we have to continue to build loyalty and engagement on the Web, on mobile devices and in social media, the only places where readership will grow. Because of that, our newsroom — both in its thinking and structure — needs to be in a relatively permanent “beta” mode as we learn, adapt and lead. This isn’t change for change sake.

As someone who has led Post’s digital content initiatives over the past three years, I actually wish it were true that we have too much innovation at the Post. If anything, I am a big believer in our need to innovate even more than we have been doing so far, with creative offerings that meet the needs of all our customers — readers and advertisers alike.

As the person who actually gets every single email that comes to ideas@washpost.com, the address that we typically ask our readers to use in telling us what is working for them and what isn’t, I can tell you an excess amount of Post innovation isn’t what they say they are worried about.

I am acutely aware we have ways to go in other areas — in ease of use, better navigation, speed with which our website delivers Post journalism, and our site-search capabilities. They are all real and serious IT legacy and infrastructure issues that our technology team, in close partnership with the newsroom, continues to address and make progress. And we will get better at all those because, again, it isn’t really a matter of choice for our journalism or our brand or our business.

In the meantime, stay tuned for more Post innovation aimed at making our journalism that much more compelling, competitive and reader-friendly.

Related: The importance/irrelevance of news ombudsmen (John Robinson)

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  • Reykjavik

    This has to be a first: a newspaper being accused of too much innovation.

    If anything, newspapers need to learn more from the high-tech community, which has a history of creating “minimally viable products,” lauching them and learning. You don’t want to create a bad core user experience, but there are lots of ways to do innovation without degrading your brand.