Will there always be print newspapers? The editor of The Washington Post said he thought so, though others might think he's in denial.
“I can’t see that,” Downie said. “Obviously I’m of an age where I can’t see so far out into the future, but I can’t see that. If you talk about technology, there’s a unique technology to a print newspaper. It’s very low-tech, but it is very handy in lots of different ways – from being able to rip it out to being able to take different sections.”
Downie became the Post’s executive editor in 1991. He was the featured guest for Carol Joynt’s “Q & A Café,” a discussion held at Nathan’s of Georgetown April 10. It appears on TV locally in the Washington, D.C. area Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 11 p.m. on NewsChannel 8.
Downie insisted there are young readers of newspapers. He pointed to his paper getting smaller in size so that is more convenient for readers and cost-effective to produce. However, he acknowledged there are some hurdles to overcome between the print edition and Web edition.
“These are two different cultures,” Downie explained. “[Washington Post Co. Chairman and CEO] Don [Graham] and I decided at the outset that culture had to grow up on its own. It had to grow up in the Web world. I mean, if you had have turned to me to run a Web site 10 years ago, that would have been a terrible mistake, so they had to grow up in their own world. The newspaper was decidedly un-Webby 10 years ago.”
The Post’s Web operations are separate from the print operations. The Web entity is located in Arlington, Va., but Downie said he’s looking to bring the two closer.
“Now the newsroom is very Webby. It’s full of young people who live in that world and have exciting ideas and so on,” Downie added. “And yet, they want to do things. And yet, there’s this other culture across the river at WashingtonPost.com that’s in charge of doing those things and naturally you’re going to have some tensions. Now we’re going to bring the two together in some way.”
Mid-size market newspapers may be in trouble, according to Downie. The small community newspapers and the newspaper titans – like the Post and The New York Times – will in some part be immune to the evolution of media, as it makes it way in a digital age.
“I’m very worried about that,” Downie said. “Not so much the small ones – it’s those small community newspapers that have such a strong local advertising base and less overheard than we do here – that they’re going to be fine. It’s the ones in the middle, at those other metropolitan dailies – from Philadelphia to Miami and San Francisco and San Jose – where their staffs have been cut in half and their circulation has been cut in half. I’m worried about them. I do think the cities will have some newspaper in it, but what kind of newspaper it’s going to be, what kind of journalism it’s going to be doing – that’s an issue.”
Maintaining financial stability has been the issue that has hurt those newspapers, and the Post hasn’t been completely immune to problems in the industry. Print advertising – the lifeblood for most newspapers – is declining at the Post. However, its Web advertising is increasing, just not at the same rate.
“Web advertising is growing in a time when print advertising is shrinking,” Downie said. “It’s not a one-for-one substitution and that’s what we’re working on.”