Digital DMA: Washington, D.C.

Post Shifts Could Alter Paper's Digital Course

A recent reshuffling in the Washington Post's executive suite has brought former Boston Globe chief Marty Baron into the fold and opens the door for the possibility that the Post will adopt the Globe's two-site strategy. WaPo remains the DMA's top online site, but competitors have been busy, with political pureplay Politico climbing over the market's TV sites to take a firm hold of second place.
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The Washington Post still dominates digital news in the nation’s capital, but its halls lately have been loudly rattling with change. Most notably, soon-to-be former executive editor Marcus Brauchli was nudged aside to make room at the helm for Marty Baron, late of The Boston Globe.

The Post’s parent company has been struggling, while other area media are bolstering their own digital efforts. In this market of 6.4 million — the nation’s eighth largest —  the Post and its main competitors are focused on creating sophisticated features and apps to lure and engage users, especially mobile ones.

These include efforts from Politico, WTTG, WRC and WJLA, along with news radio powerhouse WTOP.

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According to data from comScore, the Post leads with an average of 17.4 million unique visitors for the six-month period from April to September, as measured by comScore, four times that of its closest rival, pureplay Politico.com. The Allbritton Communications-owned political news site averaged 4.3 million uniques during the same time frame.

In turn, Politico trounced sites further down the ladder. WTTG’s MyFoxDC.com and WRC’s NBCWashington.com, the leading TV sites here, averaged 676,000 and 655,000 unique visitors, respectively, over the same period, according to comScore. WJLA.com came in fifth with 586,000.

Meanwhile, Hubbard Broadcasting's WTOP.com lured 442,000 unique visitors during those six months. In some months it has even beaten most of the TV sites, according to recent comScore numbers.

These media sites are competing for slices of a large revenue pie. Media analysts Borrell Associates estimates $3.7 billion in local advertising dollars will be spent in the D.C. market this year, and expects the number to grow to $4.7 billion by 2017.

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Online ads are projected to account for almost $696 million of the 2012 local total, according to Borrell. By 2017, the online portion is expected to rise to $1.2 billion and account for more than one-fourth of local ad spending.

At the Post, its portion of that digital revenue seems to be getting smaller. Brauchli boasted of jumps in visitors and page views in Dec. 2011, compared with 2010, but the Washington Post Co. reported an 8% drop in revenue from online publishing (primarily WashingtonPost.com and Slate) for 2011. The company’s online publishing revenue fell from $114.8 million in 2010 to $105.8 million in 2011, according to its annual report. That same report referred to increased pricing pressures as online inventory grows.

In the first half of this fiscal year, The Washington Post Co.’s online publishing revenue barely inched up to $50.6 million, compared to $50.5 million during the same period the previous year, according to numbers released by the company.

Meanwhile, the team Brauchli pulled together to lead the Post and its website are dispersing. Raju Narisetti, one of two managing editors, returned to The Wall Street Journal early this year and the paper’s other managing editor, Elizabeth Spayd, is expected to leave soon.

Katharine Zaleski, the Post’s director of digital news, also left, joining NowThis News, the startup video site created by Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer and former CEO Eric Hippeau.

Brauchli himself earlier this month announced that he will “step aside” at the end of the year, taking on a new role as a VP with the company to work with CEO Donald Graham to review and evaluate new media opportunities.

In an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, when asked if he would take the Globe’s two-site strategy to the Post, Baron demurred, saying, “I would be delighted to offer any observations that I have about our experience here at the Globe … I imagine that I will be a participant in a wide range of discussions about the digital future of The Washington Post. That said, I’m not coming in as an evangelist for any one approach at this stage.”

Unlike other major papers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, the Post has not erected a paywall. Graham was quoted at a July tech conference saying a paywall wouldn’t make sense for the Post since 90% of its audience is outside the Washington area and therefore not served by the paper’s local-only print distribution.

John Temple, the managing editor picked to replace Narisetti, was editor of Honolulu Civil Beat. That Hawaii news site created a stir two years ago when it sprang to life with the premise it could survive on subscription revenues alone, without ads.

A paywall’s effect on access would likely be limited, said Tom Shroder, a former Sunday magazine editor at the Post who still coaches writers there and does some editing. When he worked there three years ago, at least 80% of the site’s traffic came in from search engines, and it’s unlikely a paywall would apply to those visitors, he said.

While many of the country’s radio stations have been asleep at the wheel when it comes to digital, 24-hour news station WTOP has managed to grab a spot alongside the market’s digital leaders.

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Comments (1) -

Ron Stitt Nickname posted over 4 years ago
As I've pointed out before, you have to be qualified with the use of audience data in top markets like NY, LA, DC...where the papers (and a site like Politico) have national and even global audiences. This means that the vast majority of the traffic is not local, and comparing to other sites (TV, radio) that are more locally focused is really an apples and oranges proposition. While you may not be able to get the geographic breakdown, you could avoid emphasizing a number like 17 million in the copy, without qualifying it at all to help your audience understand this context.

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