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?
The Post asks focus groups for answers; we put the question to Washingtonian readers in the June “Post Watch” column. Dozens replied. David from Northern Virginia wants more down home news:
“Well, one of the possible reasons that the ‘hometown paper’ is declining is that while it does an outstanding job of national and international reporting, local news is still second class. . . Thursday’s Northern Virginia home-delivery edition Metro section was 8 pages—roughly 1.5 pages to Virginia news, 1.5 pages to Maryland, 1 page for DC, 1/2 page for weather, 2.5 pages of obits, and 1 page for advertising.
“While Thursday has the local supplement, I think that people want local news 7 days a week . . . and if it is the Northern Virginia edition, I think that something more than 1.5 pages out of 8 would be appropriate.
“Fifteen years ago I argued with the Sports editor about their coverage of community swim meets—the Post’s position was that it was a national paper and such reporting was too mundane. After many calls and a letter or two, the Post relented and began very good coverage.
“So if there is a concern about a 225,000 subscriber drop, perhaps part of the problem is the lack of relevance to the day-to-day life of the local citizen.”
My take: Dave has a point. The Post has set itself up to be the preeminent news outlet for international, national, and local news; it rarely masters all three. There was a time, even a decade ago, when the Post could commandeer all that terrain. That day has passed. If it gets one thing right day after day, it should be local news. And if people aren't getting local news from the Post then where are they turning?