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The recent cuts at the Washington Post — as reported by Politico and Washington’s City Paper — have once again brought to the surface a culture clash that has been going on in mainstream newsrooms for most of the last decade, and one that shows no sign of ending any time soon. If anything, the economic upheaval and advertising-revenue tsunami that has hit the media industry over the past year or so has amplified it. It’s the clash between print-heads and Web-heads, or “real” journalists (as some choose to call them) and the “web-first” crowd, and the fear expressed by some — including former WaPo online staffer Derek Willis and former online executive editor Jim Brady — is that the printies are gaining the upper hand.

You can see the fault lines of this snaking through the comments on the City Paper piece, where one commenter talks about how the website “was doing nothing more than posting the print articles, and hosting some online chats,” while the “much-despised MSM reporters and editors were crammed together into an old, crappy space while actually doing the business of obtaining information and writing it.” Another talks about how “All this bla bla bla about presentation, aggregation and innovation will be all that’s left once there are no more reporters churning out actual stories.”

Toward the end of the exchange, former WaPo online staffer Robert MacMillan (@bobbymacReuters) says: “I worked there and did reporting just like it’s done at any other news outlet. Saying otherwise reveals gross ignorance and demeans what I and the good people there have been doing for years” (MacMillan reported on the layoffs here). And in his post at True/Slant, former WaPo online executive editor Brady says “It’s the attitude of Stone Age commenters like these that still pervades far too many print newsrooms. Instead of attempting to adapt to what is clearly a digital future, they complain about the world collapsing around them, yet demean anyone who tries to do anything differently. And they wonder why so many people have stopped listening to them.”

This kind of us-vs-them animosity has likely been exacerbated at the Washington Post by the fact that until recently, the online operation was a completely separate entity from the paper, with its own management and executive and building — across the river from the newspaper itself. Many people both inside and outside the Post saw this structure as a positive thing, because it allowed each to focus on their core business. Others, however, saw it as prolonging the inevitable — the time when the two would have to function as one, which is exactly what the Washington Post is trying to engineer right now. And some, like Steve Yelvington, are afraid that this will wind up with the “printies” on top.

It may have been amplified at the Post by the company’s physical and corporate structure (and there has been speculation that Web staff were let go because otherwise they would have had to be unionized), but you can bet this same battle is going on at virtually every major newspaper in North America. Why? Because they are caught between two worlds. The reality is that the print side continues to provide the bulk of the revenue (although it is falling), and it also consumes the majority of resources — which means there are a lot of senior management involved, and to be blunt, many of them have empires to protect. Others have simply been slow to grasp the magnitude of the changes going on around them. And on the other side is the Web, which is growing quickly but is still a far smaller — and less profitable — operation.

How best to join these two things together? The fear about the Washington Post is that creative online and multimedia journalists have been cut loose in favour of newspaper loyalists who may have little or no clue about what working online really involves. Is it possible for print journalists to understand and adapt to the Web? Of course it is. I’d like to think that I and other former print journalists are proof of that. But you can’t just dump all the responsibilities of understanding digital media on someone who has spent their life making the newspaper work. That is a recipe for disaster.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

54 Responses to “Has the WaPo chosen paper over web?”
  1. Great piece, Mathew. I think you hit it on the head that this is a constant battle and problem at many newspapers. The reality is that the changes are fundamental and are requiring print journalists to stretch themselves, relearn their craft and adapt. It's uncomfortable and so some choose to belittle online journalism. Even as a former undergraduate student and current graduate student, I see this among the younger journalists too.

    I had a reporter I worked with at the college newspaper I worked as editor at. She actually interned at the Washington Post this summer. Last year, she always poked fun at new technologies like Twitter and how they could be used for journalism and swore she never would join it.

    A week ago, she started following me on Twitter. :)

  2. Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi: the battle between print-heads and Webheads at major newspapers, sparked by the recent cuts at the WaPo: [link to post]

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    [link to post] @mathewi discusses the culture clashes of Web vs. print at newsrooms.

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    my take on the battle between print-heads and Webheads at major newspapers, sparked by the recent cuts at the WaPo: [link to post]

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  5. Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi: my take on the battle between print-heads and Webheads at major newspapers, sparked by cuts at the WaPo: [link to post]

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  6. Twitter Comment


    What a bloody mess… RT @Hermida, @lavrusik: [link to post] @mathewi on culture clashes of web vs. print

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  7. Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi ‘s take on battle between print-heads and Webheads at major newspapers, sparked by recent cuts at the WaPo: [link to post]

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  8. Twitter Comment


    Has the WaPo chosen the paper over the Web? [link to post] @mathewi discusses the culture clashes of Web vs. print at newsrooms.

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  9. Twitter Comment


    RT @lavrusik: Has WaPo chosen paper over the Web? [link to post] @mathewi discusses newsroom clashes of Web vs. print.

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  10. Twitter Comment


    RT @lavrusik @mathewi Has the WaPo chosen the paper over the Web? [link to post] Culture clashes of Web vs. print at newsrooms

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    RT @lavrusik: Has the WaPo chosen the paper over the Web? [link to post] @mathewi discusses the culture clashes of Web vs. print

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  12. Twitter Comment


    Looks that way RT @lavrusik: Has the WaPo chosen the paper over the Web? [link to post] @mathewi on culture clashes of web vs. print

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  13. you nailed it mathew, the dynamics of trading traditional infrastructure (easiest word for all that goes into something) for digital media infrastructure is very complex with many hard decision points: sustain legacy cash flow vs stimulate emerging potentials

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    RT @onewayoranother: RT @mathewi: ¿ha ganado el papel a la web la batalla en Washington Post? [link to post]

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  15. Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi: – my take on battle between print-heads and Webheads at newspapers, sparked by cuts at the WaPo: [link to post]

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  16. Twitter Comment


    for the morning crew – my take on battle between print-heads and Webheads at newspapers, sparked by cuts at the WaPo: [link to post]

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  17. Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi: take on battle between print-heads and Webheads at newspapers, sparked by cuts at the WaPo: [link to post]

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  18. Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi: ¿ha ganado el papel a la web la batalla en Washington Post? [link to post] (via @onewayoranother)

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    I make a cameo appearance! RT @mathewi My take on battle between prints and Webs, sparked by Washington Post cuts [link to post]

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  20. Twitter Comment


    Bad move Wapo – RT @lavrusik: Has the WaPo chosen the paper over the Web? [link to post] @mathewi discusses clashes of Web vs. print

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  21. […] INTERESSANTE artigo (e links) sobre o choque de culturas entre papel e Web que está a acontecer no The Washington Post e em muitos outros jornais do […]

  22. Twitter Comment


    Between 2 worlds: the battle for innovation in newsrooms. Has the WaPo chosen paper over web? asks @mathewi. [link to post]

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  23. Twitter Comment


    RT @lavrusik: Has the WaPo chosen the paper over the Web? [link to post] @mathewi discusses newsroom culture clash of Web vs. print.

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  24. More on WaPo news integration with the web staff from G&M’s Matthew Ingram ‘recipe for disaster’ http://tinyurl.com/ykxhuv9 #futureofnews

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    RT @journtoolbox RT @lavrusik Has WaPo chosen paper over the Web? [link to post]  @mathewi discusses newsroom clashes of Web vs print.

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    RT @steveouting: RT @mathewi Has the WaPo chosen paper over web? [link to post] (good post, albeit depressing!)

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    Reading RT @kensands More good analysis of the WaPo cuts from @mathewi [link to post]

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    RT @mathewi Has the WaPo chosen paper over web? [link to post]

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    RT @mathewi: Has WaPo chosen paper over web? Notes that print still provides most of revenue. [link to post]

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  30. Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi Has the WaPo chosen paper over web? [link to post] (good post, albeit depressing!)

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  31. Twitter Comment


    They’re going to have to kiss and make up. Has WaPo chosen paper over web? [link to post] (via @steveouting)

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  32. Twitter Comment


    More good analysis of the WaPo cuts from @mathewi [link to post]

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  33. Twitter Comment


    RT @mathewi Has the WaPo chosen paper over web? [link to post] (good post, albeit depressing!) (via @steveouting)

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  34. […] at The Globe and Mail in Toronto, discusses some of the specific issues at the Washington Post, but he is right in pointing out that the web-versus-print culture clash is anything but isolated to the …: (This kind of us-vs-them animosity) may have been amplified at the Post by the company’s […]

  35. […] Washington Post, a integração está sendo bem mais traumática. Papel e on-line viviam em mundos totalmente separados (inclusive em prédios distintos separados […]

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    RT @stevebuttry: WaPo creative digital journalists lose out to clueless “newspaper loyalists,” @mathewi says. [link to post]

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    Bad trend.RT @stevebuttry: WaPo creative digital journalists lose out to clueless “newspaper loyalists,” @mathewi says. [link to post]

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  38. Twitter Comment


    WaPo creative digital journalists lose out to clueless “newspaper loyalists,” @mathewi says. [link to post]

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  39. The Washington Post print edition is now a snailpaper, like all dailies in the USA now. The news arrives on our doorsteps 12 hours old!

  40. Great info.
    That is a very real problem. In truth this is why I don't think the transition is going to happen within newspaper companies.

  41. I will bookmark and continue reading your blog in the future! Thanks alot for the informative post!

    Have a nice day
    jenny martin
    ______________________________________________

  42. Is then there is a battle over “journalism” and its higher calling? Who is doing it and who is squandering it, etc. In truth this is why I don't think the transition is going to happen within newspaper companies.

  43. Is then there is a battle over “journalism” and its higher calling? Who is doing it and who is squandering it, etc. In truth this is why I don't think the transition is going to happen within newspaper companies.

  44. I often read your blog and always find it very interesting. Thought it was about time i let you know?Keep up the great work

    respect
    jenny martin
    ______________________________________________
    Translation Services

  45. I hope some sort of concord can be reached between the two camps as a divide like this can only be bad for journalism as a whole.

    I'd be interested to see in the future if and how these two poles of journalism find a way to work together which is best for the industry as a whole. Ultimately, I'd like to see the best of both worlds combine to produce faster and more interesting copy in the future.

    Ally

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