Following in the footsteps of The New York Times, USA Today announced that it will merge its print and online newsrooms. Both moves came out of a recognition that online news traffic is growing and that news distribution should be platform agnostic.
Just one day earlier, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell brought up the opposing view in her weekly column, stating that her paper€™s print and online operations cooperate but maintain very different voices, readerships, advertisers and competitors.
These are all true, although it can be argued that some of these factors shouldn€™t have a direct impact on the actual production of news. And though online and offline news operations face different dynamics, timing is an issue on many stories for which Web distribution becomes a competitive advantage; parallel production of such stories online and in print might not be as efficient as a unified newsroom.
However, The Washington Post is a unique case because it is a local paper whose online component is read widely and in much greater volume than print. Its daily circulation is 671,322, while the Web site’s reach is 8 million unique visitors per month — more than 6 million of whom are outside the D.C. area. If any paper could make a case for keeping the online and offline operations separate, it’s the Post.
Advertising becomes a challenge in such a situation because the paper€™s content is read nationwide, but newspapers rely greatly on local advertising and classifieds. Caroline Little, CEO and publisher of Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive (WPNI), gave a keynote address at TKG€™s ILM:05 conference that hit on this point.
Eighty percent of the Web site€™s traffic comes from outside the D.C. market, Little said, which is why it launched two homepages (one local and one national), user reviews, blogs and other personalization tools to get users involved. It also requires site registration, which is a perpetually thorny issue among online news sites. Little believes this drives repeat use through opt-in e-mail alerts for vertical content categories that link to WPNI content, as well as the all-important targeting it allows for advertisers.
Whether to combine online and print newsrooms, divide online and offline operations further, or distinguish between local and national distribution will have a lot to do with reach — national, local, online and off. The Washington Post is a rare case that excels at all of them. Determining this reach and how it plays into the ad targeting tools used by many newspapers, will help them form ad distribution strategies, which will in turn affect where they position their assets. Expect more newsroom, operational and distribution strategies to change at major papers, as online traffic continues to grow, targeting capabilities improve and online strategies evolve.