Sunday, June 21, 2009

De-Froomkined WaPo: the numbers still don't make sense

WaPo's editorial page editor Fred Hiatt claimed it was low traffic which did in Dan Froomkin's blog. The truth is still quite sketchy, but uglier and not about traffic. Jane wrote yesterday about the Washington Post's ugly practices which squelched Dan Froomkin's traffic; she's also looked at WaPo's flat traffic in comparison to the increasingly popular Huffington Post and newspaper competitor The New York Times.

And I've already looked at the performance of the op-ed team as well; we can rule out Hiatt's lame excuse about traffic as the reason for Froomkin's exit when half the team is doing badly or worse.

We might be tempted ignore WaPo's less-than-happy performance and cut the crusty old newspaper some slack as they adapt to the internet, but unfortunately, WaPo cannot claim a lack of institutional knowledge about internet-based media.

Most of us have forgotten that WaPo's parent The Washington Post Company owns; in internet years Slate is older than Methuselah, neck-and-neck in age with competitor At the decrepit age of 13 years, Slate's editorial and management team has seen it all and managed to survive it -- and in theory, should be a deep resource for WaPo's transition to a future based solely on the internet.

At least you'd think a rational management team at WaPo or its parent would see it this way.

If anything, Slate has floundered for the last handful of years as new competitors entered the marketplace and began eating into marketshare.

What a remarkable coincidence: WaPo's parent bought Slate in 2004.

But here is another missed opportunity, besides the inability of WaPo to convert Slate into an effective launchpad for an internet-based future.

Why isn't Dan Froomkin transferring to Slate, bringing with him his own dedicated fan base? Was this an option? (Somebody want to ask Dan if WaPo's parent ever suggested this?)

Looking at the web analytics again, Salon has a more dedicated base of addicts and regulars than Slate, as well as 20% more traffic in spite of having a paid subscriber model -- a model which failed for Slate. Why isn't Slate and its owner looking at leveraging opportunities right under their noses to increase traffic and reader loyalty?

Is it because The Washington Post Company really doesn't understand the internet and new media, and simply wants to look like it does from a distance?

And why are shareholders like Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway putting up with the financial drain WaPo places on other earnings from more profitable ventures like Kaplan, Inc.? Why aren't they looking to spin off WaPo, Slate, and any other media components out from The Washington Post Company to another Berkshire Hathaway holding, like Walt Disney and its ABC network, or to GE and its NBC network? These firms do understand media and the internet, after all, and might be able to improve profitability through economies of scale.

Anyway you look at it, the problem with traffic at WaPo and its blogs has not been Dan Froomkin. There are a few other names we should be seeing announced as soon-to-be former employees of The Washington Post Company and its subsidiaries if the company was really in the business of increasing shareholder value.

[Cross-posted at Oxdown Gazette; graph courtesy of]

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