By: Rob Tornoe
Anyone currently plugging away inside the veiled walls of a newsroom knows this is a challenging time for the media business. Margins are slimmer, budgets are smaller, and everyone is expected to do more with less. No one understands this better than syndicates, where new opportunities and openings for sales continue to be difficult to unearth.
The Washington Post took a major step forward to combat these trends by creating The Washington Post News Media Services (WPNMS), which combines The Washington Post Writers Group and The Washington Post News Service with Bloomberg News. The merger creates a powerhouse that serves more than 1,200 publications with nearly 4,500 pieces of business on a contract basis.
“By combining The Washington Post Writers Group and the Post’s news service with Bloomberg News, we have created a formidable lineup of award-wining columnists and content for publications around the world, both in print and online,” said Katharine Weymouth, publisher of The Washington Post.
The merger also acts to create efficiency in the syndication business. Not only does it allow The Washington Post to save money by closing an entire office (and unfortunately, shedding a few staffers), it combines all the Post’s products into one big basket that gives sales reps a broader array of options when they visit prospective clients.
A recent success for WPNMS has been the interest among clients in the revamped Newsweek. Under the direction of Tina Brown, the magazine has introduced far more celebrity-driven news, which has been popular with customers both domestically and internationally.
“People want to see what Tina has been producing,” said Alan Shearer, chief executive officer and editorial director at WPNMS. “It’s been great.”
In addition to merging the two sides, the new syndication service has added content produced by online newsmagazines Slate and The Root. Slate’s content features a strong editorial voice and witty take on current events, while The Root’s content focuses on the African-American community. Both websites are owned by The Washington Post.
“The Root content is going to be really invaluable, since it features a perspective that’s absent in many newspapers,” Shearer said. “We think adding these offerings is a twin benefit, both strengthening our wire and also strengthening publications that we own.”
New cartoonist in the mix
In addition to the merger, WPNMS has strengthened its content by adding a cartoonist — conservative rabble-rouser Mike Lester. Formerly the staff cartoonist at The Rome News-Tribune in Georgia (once one of the smallest newspapers to have a full-time cartoonist on staff), Lester now draws three cartoons a week for WPNMS from his unique perspective.
Lester, who was previously represented by Cagle Cartoons, said he decided to switch in part to participate financially in the success or failure of his work (Cagle Cartoons provides a package of cartoons to newspaper clients, while WPNMS represents cartoonists individually). But the largest reason for the move was the development of his comic strip, “Mike Du Jour,” which the syndicate hopes to put in front of editors by summer.
“‘Mike Du Jour’ has been in my studio for years,” Lester said. “To be honest, I never dreamt of having a comic strip, so it’s never been a goal long-term or otherwise. It’s only taken over my life in the last couple of years.”
Amy Lago, comics editor at WPNMS, is very excited about working on “Mike Du Jour” with Lester and has spoken with him about the strip off and on for years.
“To me, this feature is different. It looks different, and its voice is different,” Lago said. “It’s also laugh-out-loud funny, which rarely happens, and accessible to readers of all ages.”
Lester’s cartoons add some conservative chops to a lineup that also features Lisa Benson, a popular cartoonist of right-leaning cartoons that are in demand by many editors who view political cartoonists as too liberal. Lago knows the current market, and understands any new political cartoonist is a tough sell, but thinks Lester will do well.
“He’s got a voice that needs to be heard, and people react strongly to his work,” Lago said. “That’s what generates a conversation among readers, and editors understand the value in that.”
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor & Publisher and can be reached at [email protected].