Boston Globe editor Martin Baron will be The Washington Post’s new executive editor come January 2013, replacing Marcus Brauchli. Three days after his first visit to WaPo’s newsroom to meet his future colleagues, I asked Baron what strategies he planned to take from the Globe to his new job.
Last year, Baron told CJR about the Globe’s then-new creation of two sites for readers: Boston.com, which is free, and the subscription-based BostonGlobe.com. The Washington Post is one of the biggest newspapers in the country that doesn’t have a paywall or subscription-based website. It’s also seen significant losses in revenue, including digital ad revenue. Perhaps a Globe-style double-site strategy is the solution?
Baron said “a large number” of subscribers are visiting the Globe’s new site: “Traffic has been good, unique visitors have been good.” According to the Globe’s report on the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations data, the paper has 26,000 digital-only subscribers, which makes up just under 10 percent of its total circulation. As time goes on, Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com will increasingly differentiate the kinds of stories and news they offer. The free site has more local coverage and blogs, while the pay site offers richer, more in-depth fare. “It’s not a silver bullet. It doesn’t magically solve all problems, but no one expected that,” Baron said. “I haven’t come across a silver bullet in the industry anywhere. We feel that it strengthened our position and we feel good about it.”
But will WaPo feel good about it? Baron said that other newspapers are considering it, pointing out that just yesterday, The Houston Chronicle debuted its own subscriber site that will run alongside its free Chron.com. Just like the Globe’s pay site, the new Chronicle features a mobile-friendly responsive design that easily adapts across all platforms. A similar double-site strategy could work for WaPo, too.
But the decision to create two WaPo sites would not just be up to him, Baron said, and he didn’t know what Publisher Katharine Weymouth and CEO Don Graham were planning. Nor would it be wise, Baron said, to go into a new job with a business plan in hand.
“I think that you have to spend some time at an organization before you offer all sorts of advice about what they ought to be doing,” he said, adding, “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.”
I also asked Baron about WaPo media blogger Erik Wemple’s post about his new boss’s first newsroom visit, where he called Baron’s approach to newsroom sizing “depressing.” Baron hadn’t yet read the article but said, “We do have to be realists about what resources we have and how our business has changed. I don’t find that depressing. It just means that we have to make some decisions as we confront a reality of fewer resources.” That may sound ominous, but Baron said he was sure newspapers in general and WaPo in particular have a “strong future” and will “continue to do extraordinary journalism.”
As for his soon-to-be-former job, Baron says he’s “very proud” of the work that his Globe colleagues have done over the past decade. “Nothing’s easy,” he said, “but we’ve made a profound transformation here, and we’ve continued to do strong journalism.”