Saving the Washington Post—the Latest from Washingtonian Readers

By: Harry Jaffe

How can the Washington Post keep readers and attract new ones? These questions have been confounding the Post for decades. Why, in a growing Washington region that’s both wealthy and well-educated, does the Post lose some 5 percent of its readers every year?

In the June “Post Watch” column in The Washingtonian, I put the question to readers. Dozens replied. Benjamin from Alexandria had a few suggestions:

“I’d tell them to create some sort of membership structure, akin to the Kennedy Center or other non-profits, perhaps with membership levels tied to giving.

“I read the Washington Post online all the time, but I have no interest in being a subscriber under their current model. I have no need for a newspaper. They waste trees, the news is stale by the time its printed, they’re not searchable, they have no links, they’re unwieldy to read in pretty much any manner but particularly while traveling.

“I love the content and the writing, though; I would gladly send the Post some sort of money every month if there were means to do so, just for allowing me to read online. I even e-mailed them once, asking if there was a way to contribute. Barbara Buchanan of Customer Care was evidently so confused that in repeating washingtonpost.com content was free and there was no need to send money, she misspelled “Washington.” I gave up.”

This, of course, is the nightmare scenario that robs Don Graham, Bo Jones, Len Downie, and Phil Bennett of sleep. Literate readers “love the content,” but they don’t love it enough to buy the newspaper. Benjamin’s “membership structure” might help the Post connect with readers, as it is attempting to do with the “Post Points” gimmick. What happened to attracting readers with news? And the notion of making the Post a charity case—as if it were a nonprofit media outlet—is a hoot, but it won’t pay the bills.