WashingtonPost.com Shakes Up Staff to Get Closer to Newspaper

By: Steve Outing

This isn't the first time. The staff of The Washington Post's new media division, Digital Ink, and its Web service, WashingtonPost.com, went through another staff shake-up on Wednesday, apparently in a bid to foster better cooperation between the online service and the newspaper itself and to better define the site's core focus.

The new editor for WashingtonPost.com is Leslie Walker, formerly the Maryland editor for the newspaper, who for the last half year has been on a newsroom "exchange program" working for the online service.

Out of the picture at least temporarily is Jason Seiken, who had been editor of WashingtonPost.com and also is a vice president of Digital Ink. Seiken is taking a two-month sabbatical, then is scheduled to return full time as editor at large for the online service.

Out of the picture entirely is Mary Lou Fulton, who had been managing editor of the Web site. That position has been eliminated in the restructuring, in order that section editors have a closer relationship with the top editors, according to Digital Ink spokesperson Erin O'Shea. Fulton had resigned prior to Wednesday's announcements.

In another move, Larry Roberts, a content developer responsible for the site's business, national and international sections, is moving to the newspaper to become Virginia editor on the criminal justice beat. Despite the moves, O'Shea says the size of the Web site staff remains the same at around 30 editorial employees.

The latest personnel moves come three months after the arrival of a new publisher, Marc Teren, who came to Digital Ink from Disney Interactive's Entertainment Division, where he was vice president and general manager. He replaced Ralph Terkowitz, the newspaper's vice president of technology who had been filling the top Digital Ink position temporarily after the departure of the last publisher in a previous shake-up.

The appointment of Walker as the top digital editor seems to set the course for greater cooperation between the Web site and the newspaper. Digital Ink, the Post Company's new media arm which operates WashingtonPost.com, was set up initially as a separate entity from the newspaper. Neither Seiken nor Fulton had worked at the Washington Post prior to joining Digital Ink. Fulton came from the Los Angeles Times and Seiken from the Patriot-Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts.

It might be surmised that Post newspaper managers will feel more comfortable having "one of their own" in the top digital editing spot. In a statement, Post managing editor Bob Kaiser said of Walker's appointment: "This is great news for Leslie and for us at The Post. With her at the helm, (executive editor) Len (Downie) and I look forward to building a close working relationship with our online service."

O'Shea emphasizes that Walker is a "well regarded journalist" who will be able to continue to build a strong relationship with the newspaper staff. She says the personnel moves are part of the "process of continuing the Post's standard of excellence in journalism on the Web. ... In the new media world, things are never static. It's a competitive environment, and it's important to stay at the top of the game."

The personnel shake-up also may resolve the issue of focus for the site -- whether it is seen primarily as a national news site or whether it takes on a more Washington, D.C.-local flavor. Given new editor Walker's local journalism roots, it's a good bet that it's the latter.


Azeem Azhar of the The Economist (London) writes:

"Disclosure has always been an important part of a journalist's conduct. It's worried me a little that you've written about John Funk's Mercury Mail a couple of times without telling us that you did (I believe) do professional consulting work for them. I know, from other discussions we've had, that you would still think Merc.com was a great idea, even if you hadn't advised them, but I still reckon you ought to put up a flag and tell us of past relationships you may have had."

Azhar is correct that in the past I have done some work for Mercury Mail as part of my research and consulting business, Planetary News. And yes, I should have noted that relationship when mentioning Mercury Mail in my column. He is referring to a brief mention of the company reaching 1 million e-mail subscriptions recently. I typically do disclose such relationships in this column, but omitted it in this case because the items were so short. Mea culpa.

Push under-counting issue

Speaking of Mercury Mail (hey, it's a small world), chairman John Funk thought I missed an important point in my last column, about potential undercounting of advertising impressions when content is "pushed" or delivered to consumers rather than having them pro-actively seek out a Web page and thus see the ads. Funk writes:

"One thing I think you don't bring out enough is that some push services deliver the raw HTML code and then when the message is opened the ad is pulled in. That's a true, auditable method that does not lead to overcounting. ... There's also an easy way to track HTML messages that get read with a simple CGI (script) tagged to any image that gets pulled in. You don't need to get fancy with Java."

True, some of the push vendors do deliver only the HTML pages sans images, while other push technologies (such as Microsoft Internet Explorer's new built-in ability to deliver Web pages to users) send HTML plus images. For those solutions where only HTML pages are delivered, there is no ad counting problem; however, page counts can still be misleadingly high for delivered pages.

Another "push" expert, Vin Crosbie, president of Digital Delivery (Brookline, Massachusetts), had this contrary view to my last column:

"How many of all the Web pages that people access are actually read? When I'm browsing Web sites, at least half of the hyperlinks I click yield Web pages that I immediately know I don't want to read, so don't read. Your column implies that all Web pages browsed are read but perhaps half of all pushed Web pages aren't read. That is akin to stating that a publication that is sold at a newsstand is better read than the same print publication sold to a subscriber. Yet, the reverse is absolutely more likely to be true in both print or online media: A person who subscribes is much more likely to read that a person who only browses.

"Another implication in your column was that a person who subscribes to something in which they later find that they aren't interested will never unsubscribe. You provided yourself as the example, a person who professionally evaluates all possible services. You're clearly an anomaly, not a typical consumer. It doesn't surprise me that you're deleting at least half your online subscriptions unread; you probably have at least three or four times as many online subscriptions than a typical consumer.

"An advertising server will count both pushed and pulled Web pages as being read. However, if either counts are to be discounted, logic and the history of print media dictates that it should be the browsed impressions, not the subscribed."

Crosbie's comments are intriguing, but I'm not convinced that my contention is wrong. Consider the printed magazines that are delivered to your home or business. If you're anything like me, many of the delivered (subscribed) editions stack up unread. On the other hand, when you go to the trouble of buying a magazine at a newsstand, it's probably because you have the intent to read it. He's right that many Web pages that we stumble upon don't interest us and we quickly move on, but in that brief viewing time we typically have seen the banner ads on the page (assuming the publisher is wise enough to place them up top) -- hence, a legitimate banner ad impression.

This is an interesting debate that will only be resolved when someone does a study of consumer behavior with pushed vs. pulled Web content. Are there any volunteers out there?


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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