Weymouth sat down for an hour-long interview with Poynter President Karen Dunlap, who asked her about the salons, which for the first time she said were her idea; the integration of the paper’s print and digital operations; the business of journalism; and more.
The interview — conducted in front of the nearly 70 attendees of the “Edge of Change” program — will be broadcast on CSPAN at a time to be determined. Highlights of the conversation appear below; an entire transcript is available, along with a story about the evening.
‘At this point, we have to cut back’
“It was a brilliant model. If you were an advertiser and you wanted to reach the local audience, you had to advertise in the newspaper. So our classified section — for those of us local newspapers — were terrific and brought us in hundreds of millions of dollars. If you were going to buy a car, if you were going to get a job, you went to The Washington Post. Of course, you still do today, it just may be online.
“So, the whole world has changed. People are on Craigslist and eBay and Monster and AutoTrader, and you name it.
“There are a thousand different companies coming after almost every niche we’re in.
“So I think when we had money to invest, we invested it back in the newsroom, which is where we should invest it. But at this point, we just, we have to cut back. We have to have a smaller cost structure…”
‘You can put out great quality news with a smaller newsroom’
“And when we had the resources to invest it, we grew it to almost 1,000 people. So, it’s never fun cutting it back. And if we can invest, we will. And we want to. But you also can put out great quality news with a smaller newsroom and it is about, for us, about being a good business so we can continue to pay for reporters to be in Baghdad and be in Afghanistan and in India as well as in Washington, D.C.”
On Nonprofits and Government Subsidies
“… a lot of my journalists will always say like, ‘Why can’t we be a nonprofit?’ I’m like, ‘We are. We just don’t get the tax write-off.’
“… I made the joke about the nonprofit organization, but we’re not proud of it and we understand we need to be a profitable organization and we’re a public company. …
“And we’re by no means waiting for some magic bullet to come around. That is not what we walk around saying. We understand we are a business, we’re running a business and we need to be doing it in a disciplined fashion. So, we have been aggressively cutting costs across the board. As well as focusing very hard on what we do that’s unique and good and making sure we can continue to do that.
“I’m not a believer that it’s some new business model we’re gonna find. I’m not a believer in a magic bullet. So I think it is in many cases about getting smaller. And cutting your cost structure. And then if some magic bullet comes along, fantastic. But we’re not waiting for that.”
‘I had come up with the idea that we ought to do dinner salons’
“I obviously made a terrible mistake. Our brand cannot do something like that. And there was a perception that we were allowing people to pay for access to journalists and government officials. And it blew sky wide within media circles. …
“…I was sorry that it happened because it caused us all to take a step back and it got a lot of publicity that didn’t help us. But by the same token, I’m gonna make other mistakes. I hope they’re not as public.
‘Are we so desperate that we were willing to go to any lengths?‘
On Integrating Print and Digital Operations
‘It didn’t make sense’
“It made a lot of sense when the Internet was brand new, but didn’t make sense after 10 or 15 years. So I wanted us to get to a place where we are a news organization focused on publishing journalism on multiple platforms, with digital experts and print experts where it makes sense.”
“…We actually finally, officially integrated into one company January 1st of this year.”
‘There is no print and online’
“So, the print people were thrilled and just wanted to learn the new tools so they can do their journalism. Many of the online people wanted nothing to do with the perceived dinosaur.
“So one woman, in one of our town hall meetings, she raised her hand and she said, ‘So we’ve been, like, the life raft, and you guys have been, like, the sinking ship. So, like, do you have a strategy for how the sinking ship is not gonna pull down the life raft?’
“Yeah, I swear to God.
“And I actually was really glad she asked it because I knew it was on a lot of people’s minds and they just weren’t brave enough to ask it. And it allowed me to go into my belief, which is: you cannot think like that, right?
“We’ve got to be — there is no print and online. It’s journalism. And it’s journalism on multiple platforms. And we need experts, but it’s not an either-or proposition. And for us it really is about becoming a news organization.
“We now have an integrated newsroom, and it is exactly what I hoped, which is: they no longer have to dial 10 digits to talk to somebody they never met across the river who they didn’t really trust and didn’t understand their content and whatnot. Now they can lean over and say, ‘Hey, Karen, when are you gonna be done with that story and how do you think I should play it on the Web?’ So it’s actually thinking about our readers.”
‘Smart aggregation is a service to readers’
“So I’m all for aggregation. And the more eyeballs we can get to our content, the better. We do want readers to be educated and to understand the difference between, what is a source that you can trust as opposed to just rumors out there. And the difference between just repurposing content and not crediting it.”
‘But I think we do have to watch that we’re not being taken advantage of’
“One of our reporters [Ian Shapira] did a story, and he’s a young journalist, and [after] not much longer an Internet media company … Gawker … They just basically rewrote the story, slapped it up online, maybe in very, very tiny print at the bottom it said ‘Washington Post.’ And Ian called the guy up and said, ‘I worked on this story for several weeks. How long did it take you to rewrite it?’ The guy was like, ‘I don’t know, 20 minutes.’
We’re not gonna be out there suing people. We do want our content out there. But we have to also not go too far.
‘One of my favorite things to do is watch the presses run at night’
“The world is changing, I don’t know whether we’ll have printed newspapers in 10 years or whatever, but to feel the presses start to hum, and to watch them come off, is just, it’s really amazing.
“We call it, in our industry, ‘the daily miracle,’ and it is.”
‘I am a print person‘
‘We still have more readers than we have ever had’
“But you don’t see Katie Couric doing a segment on ‘Nightly News’ about the decline of ‘Nightly News,’ right? So we don’t do ourselves any favors. We still have more readers than we have ever had. It’s just on different platforms.”
“…I always start with the paper because that’s my habit and preference, but I also find that I read a shocking amount now on my iPhone. Because it is really easy and it’s portable, and you’re sitting waiting for somebody or you’re on a bus or you’re on the plane and it is very user-friendly. So I consume [media] in lots of different ways.”