AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 19/2010

SPIEGEL Interview with Washington Post Editor 'We Should Not Let Nostalgia For Newspapers Cloud Our Thinking'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli discusses the global media crisis, the death of the "paper of record" and the iPad hype. He argues there is still a bright future for the kind of quality journalism his newspaper made famous through its 1970s breaking of the Watergate story.


SPIEGEL: Where do you get your news when you get up in the morning?

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Brauchli: One of the first things I do is look at my BlackBerry to see what has come in overnight. I glance at the headlines. Then I look at the papers, the Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and I'll scan online to see what the others are doing. I am reading to see what we don't have.

SPIEGEL: You are the executive editor but you don't know what your own newspaper is publishing?

Brauchli: Our newsroom is no longer a newspaper-cycle newsroom. It's a 24-hour newsroom. In the morning, there's almost inevitably something from overnight that I have not seen.

SPIEGEL: So like many people nowadays, you are getting your news from various different sources. Doesn't that make you nervous?

Brauchli: The way people consume news has been changing for several years. We know a lot of readers already get their news through different channels. They may read the paper in the morning, but they also read the paper in the evening and set aside articles they want to read later. This changes what you have to do with the newspaper. It is no longer enough just to fill a newspaper with yesterday's news. You need to give people more context, analysis, perspective and commentary. We are committed to doing in-depth narrative stories and investigative pieces because we know that if you give people something they can't get elsewhere, they will come back. The reality is, as more and more information is available, it becomes harder and harder to navigate that flood of information, and people seek out brands and institutions they recognize and trust.

SPIEGEL: Young people in particular say: If a piece of news is really important, it will find me through my Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Brauchli: We recently launched a new Facebook application that allows Facebook members to identify stories from the Washington Post that they like or that they want to share with their network of friends. Then when their friends come to the Washington Post website, they see what their other friends have liked or shared. Basically, it's creating a sort of community of users of the Washington Post within Facebook, and we've seen a huge increase in the number of readers. Last November we launched a website that is all local news, to make it easier for readers to get news from the area. Even though the print circulation is lower these days, we reach a bigger audience.

SPIEGEL: But none of that translated into a profit. Last year the newspaper division's total operating loss was $163.5 million. In fact last year, as you were trying to develop new sources of income, the Post was even offering lobbyists the opportunity to sponsor private dinner parties with Post journalists and politicians in the home of your publisher, Katharine Weymouth.

Brauchli: We made a mistake and we put a stop to that project. But I think there will always be myriad sources of revenue for any news organization, and we need to find ways to reach our audiences and to capitalize on our products and content. And I think the Post should be involved in doing conferences and events, but we should be doing them openly and on the record.

SPIEGEL: It would be much easier if your online readers paid as much as those who buy the print version of the newspaper do. Do you think, in retrospect, that it was a mistake not to charge for online content from the very beginning?

Brauchli: It's a hard thing to judge. I have no doubt that, one way or another, people are willing to pay for content. They already do. They pay to get the Post delivered to their home seven days a week. But we haven't figured out the right online models just yet.

SPIEGEL: What if all news organizations decided to start charging for online content simultaneously?

Brauchli: That might work if you could get it done. But frankly I don't think it's even possible to imagine all the news organizations in the country, let alone the world, getting together and deciding to do something. If all of my competitors wanted to erect walls to their content, I suppose the smart strategy might be to say we'll be the one that doesn't have a wall.

SPIEGEL: Then what makes you so optimistic that news organizations will be able to charge for their content in new ways in the future?

Brauchli: I think, ultimately, people do pay for information. How we will collect that money, I don't know. There will be multiple answers, including what is the major source of revenue today: Advertising. And it may be that you charge different amounts for different modes of delivery. We charge for an iPhone app right now. We don't charge very much, but we do charge for it. I think as a matter of principle, if we're going to create and tailor our content specifically to a platform that somebody wants to carry with him or that offers greater convenience, it may make sense to charge for that.

SPIEGEL: Quite a few people in the media hope that the Apple iPad might provide a solution to all these problems. Why doesn't the Post offer an iPad application yet?

Brauchli: We've been a little slow off the mark there, but we also want to get it right and make sure that what we produce is something that will be distinct and take advantage of the qualities of the iPad.

SPIEGEL: It sounds like you don't believe the iPad and other e-readers will play a significant role for news organizations?

Brauchli: I think that, as a product, the iPad is probably not the final version of what the tablet reading device is going to be. But it is indicative of what's coming. And we are incredibly attentive as to how people are changing their information-consuming habits. I don't think that the iPad will supplant or replace the mobile phone or the newspaper. The challenge that we face today is that we have to produce products for each platform, and we have to optimize for each platform.

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