Katharine Weymouth Says The Washington Post Needs ‘Fundamental Change’

katharine121008 Katharine Weymouth Says The Washington Post Needs Fundamental ChangeThe Washington Post’s publisher Katharine Weymouth sent out an email to her staff this morning declaring that the business model for the paper would have to undergo a "fundamental change."

First, they’re going hyper-local! Washingtonpost.com is going to be recast itself as a local news and information site for people who live in or near the Beltway.

On washingtonpost.com, we will need to up our efforts to cover breaking news, and to use video in that coverage, if video is how our viewers wish to follow the story. We must also make our local readers’ lives easier by increasing the practical utility of our site, and make the paper and washingtonpost.com go-to places for local information such as entertainment listings, weather and traffic, job postings, real estate and auto listings, and other classified services and marketplaces. We must make it possible for local consumers not only to find the kind of practical information that can aid a purchase decision, but make it possible for them to complete many of these transactions on the site itself.

The memo is short on specifics on how they’re going make all these big changes but Ms. Weymouth is articulating the philosophy she began to tease out with us back in July.

Here’s her full memo:

From: Katharine Weymouth

Re: The Road Forward

12/10/08

This has been an eventful –and difficult—year for the news business, in print and online. Since becoming publisher of The Washington Post and our web site earlier this year, I have made a concerted effort to assess the state of our business, and with the help of all of you, to develop a
strategic framework to guide our future direction. My goal is to ensure that The Post remains strong, at a time when our mission of making sense of Washington has never been more important, both for members of our local community, and for those in our large national online audience who are impacted by what happens in the nation’s capital.

Over the course of the summer, a team of forty staff members, drawn from every department of the newspaper and the web site, conducted a detailed analysis of our business, evaluating how well we serve our audience’s needs and interests, how effective our products are in creating value for advertisers, how cost-effective we are in the way we publish, and where we hold unique competitive advantage when compared with the many alternative sources of news, information, and e-commerce made possible by the new digital economy. Underlying this effort has been our realization that while our online business is growing steadily, that growth is not enough to offset the larger declines in print revenue and profitability that we are experiencing.

The purpose of our strategy review was not to answer with great precision how to “fix” our business model overnight—there is no quick, easy response to the sea changes already disrupting our industry before the financial meltdown of this Fall. Our goal was to propose an integrated set of choices that will allow us to preserve our commitment to journalistic excellence while also positioning the company to generate strong financial returns over the long run. By setting forth a common framework for decision-making, we hope we are providing your departments with the tools for prioritizing what we do as an organization, so that we focus our increasingly scarce resources on things that will make us indispensable to our customers, and thus create value for our business, while eliminating efforts that no longer make a difference to our readers.

At the heart of our strategy is the fact that our home market is not only an affluent, highly educated, growing market, but that it is, of course
uniquely, the nation’s capital and the seat of government. More than ever, The Washington Post must be the indispensable guide to Washington. In the capital and beyond the Beltway, The Washington Post delivers news and understanding about the politics, policies, personalities and institutions that make Washington the world’s seat of power. For people in the metropolitan area, The Post must also inform, engage, entertain and facilitate their handling of practical, everyday problem solving.

The three pillars of our strategy are:

Being about Washington, for Washingtonians, and those affected by it

Providing utility, engagement, and convenience for our local readers

Extending our brand with new products and new platforms

Being for, and about Washington, means addressing our local readers’ core needs. Strong news coverage, enterprise and investigative reporting, expert analysis and informed commentary will continue to be important tools in making sense for local readers of the world around them. On
washingtonpost.com, we will need to up our efforts to cover breaking news, and to use video in that coverage, if video is how our viewers wish to follow the story.

We must also make our local readers’ lives easier by increasing the practical utility of our site, and make the paper and washingtonpost.com
go-to places for local information such as entertainment listings, weather and traffic, job postings, real estate and auto listings, and other
classified services and marketplaces. We must make it possible for local consumers not only to find the kind of practical information that can aid a purchase decision, but make it possible for them to complete many of these transactions on the site itself.

To expand our revenue base and diversify our business model, we must look for opportunities to create new products, especially in the areas where business and policy intersect. These may include the hosting of specialized conferences for business decision makers with a stake in Washington policy-making, and the development of premium subscription products for business clients.

To achieve the goals outlined above, we must make fundamental changes to our business culture. We must focus better on what the consumer indicates they want, and be less quick to emphasize only what we think is important.

We must create a nimble, high-performance culture. And we must realign our cost structure to match this strategy. This realignment of our cost
structure must be fast. The decline in our revenue base, particularly in classified advertising, requires decisive action. But cutting our cost
structure must be done in a way that protects our brand, and lays the foundation for future growth.

One thing this strategy does not change is our bedrock principles. We will always be committed to producing great journalism, building a strong
business, serving our readers, being an exceptional place to work and a responsible member of our community. To be faithful to these principles at a time of great change, we will need to be creative, adaptive, and resourceful in the way we position our business going forward. I know of
no better group to meet these challenges than our team today, and I couldn’t be more excited about working with you to forge this future.