The Kalb Report Discusses ‘The Washington Post’ in the Digital Age

Episode examines the renowned newspaper’s future in a web-driven world.

kalb report
Washington Post Managing Editor Kevin Merida and Executive Editor Martin Baron answered Marvin Kalb's questions on the Kalb Report.
April 03, 2013

The Internet age and its effects on one of the nation’s preeminent newspapers, “The Washington Post,” drove the conversation on the latest edition of the Kalb Report, titled “On Deadline: American Newspapers in the Digital Age.” The episode was filmed at the National Press Club April 1.

The discussion, moderated by host Marvin Kalb, featured two editors from The Post: Executive Editor Martin Baron, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who The Post appointed in January to lead print and web operations, and Managing Editor Kevin Merida, who oversees all news and feature content. The pair spoke of the paper’s digital evolution and its plan to introduce new pay models to help alleviate financial pressures.

Mr. Kalb started the discussion with tough statistics about the newspaper’s sales, citing that in 2007, The Post sold almost 700,000 copies every day from Monday to Friday. In 2012, that number dropped to roughly 462,000—nearly 250,000 copies less in five years.

Both editors agreed much has been lost due to this decline. In the last decade, the paper has made deep cuts, trimming down its number of national correspondents, getting rid of its traditional office ombudsman role and limiting some of its environmental and metro coverage.

However, despite these difficulties, Mr. Baron explained the paper’s overall readership is growing, in part due to web traffic. The opportunities this online audience presents excite Mr. Baron. 

“There are new ways of telling stories, and I'm actually optimistic about our future,” he said.

Mr. Merida added sharing stories in the digital age encourages interesting and inventive ways of interacting with readers.

“There's so many new jobs that have continued to be created, all kinds of jobs that involve bringing audiences to our work—video journalists, producers. And we're constantly creating journalism that hasn’t been invented before,” Mr. Merida said.

But thanks to the Internet and its interactive tools, more media outlets now populate the digital news space. Mr. Baron listed “The New York Times,” “The Wall Street Journal,” Politico and even aggregators Google News and Yahoo! as competitors in The Washington Post’s quest for new readers and additional advertising money. To stay competitive and increase revenue, the paper recently announced a move toward a digital subscription policy, similar to what The New York Times implemented in 2011.

“There's no one at The Washington Post who says, ‘This is the silver bullet.’ It hasn’t been the silver bullet for The New York Times, either. But it’s one more thing, one more piece of the puzzle, and if it is, obviously any incremental revenue is welcome,” Mr. Baron said.

Shrinking resources, heightened competition and new financial structures make it difficult to predict The Post’s future. No matter the challenges, both editors emphasized the paper will not lose sight of its commitment to accurate reporting and honorable journalism.

“Those values are absolutely core to what we do. If we didn’t adhere to those values, we wouldn’t have any readers,” Mr. Baron said. “So the question is how do we extend those values in new media, on new platforms, and tell stories in new and particularly powerful ways? That's what we're endeavoring to do.”

Mr. Kalb asked a final question about what advice the two seasoned professionals could give students interested in entering the journalism field. Mr. Baron’s response ended the interview on a hopeful note.

“It’s a great time to be in our business despite some of the dour discussions that we've had about our economics,” he said.  “We need people to be inventive and to develop apps and to think about how can we bring information in cooler ways, in more vital ways, to the people who consume it. And it’s their time.”

The Kalb Report series, moderated by Mr. Kalb, is jointly produced by the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the George Washington University, Harvard University, University of Maryland University College and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. The series is underwritten by a grant from Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.