City Desk

WaPo Kills Sunday Source

Next week, the Washington Post's top managers will meet for a big briefing on the paper's new strategy, an exercise that'll inevitably lead to a skinnier paper. But one part is being subtracted even before the big hubbub. It's among the skinniest of the paper's constituent parts. Here's the memo from newsroom leadership on the matter, followed by some extensive analysis.

Sunday Source
More than five years ago we launched Sunday Source as a fresh addition to our weekend entertainment and lifestyle coverage. That run is now coming to an end. As we take a hard, deep look into strategic areas of The Post's journalism we've decided to move Source's innovative staff and redistribute the best of its content to other precincts of the newspaper, and to end publication of the section on Dec. 21.
From its inception, Sunday Source was an innovation of design and content. The small Source staff and a dedicated band of freelancers created some popular features, including Road Trip, EcoWise, TrendSpotter and listings. We plan for these to live on in new homes in the new year. The Sunday Source staff will move to Style.

The central components of the Sunday Source pandered shamelessly to advertisers. A big feature on the front page that’s often rooted in commerce of some sort; an “Eats” section, on spending money eating; “Trendspotter,” on spending money on clothes and accessories; “Our Picks,” on spending money on culture; and “Media Mix,” on spending money on media.

The small staff at the Sunday Source worked hard in scouring the region for bargains, good food, and other service-journalism scoops. The quality of the section has improved greatly over the years, though that's not saying too much. In 2004, it engineered the throwing of a party for local Republicans and then wrote up the event for the paper—complete with a photographer who stage-managed the guests. That all ended in an embarrassing note from the editors.

A longtime news staffer had this to say about the Sunday Source’s product-vetting process: “Editors call in new products; they try the products; they talk to the manufacturer; they talk to the retailer, to make sure it’s available; then they write it up in an entertaining fashion; then an editor goes over their work; then they have to think, ‘Is this the right mascara?’; then they send it to the copy desk, which double-checks the spelling and makes sure it’s all correct; and it ends up being two inches of copy, and that’s just for mascara.”

The problem for the commercial side of the Post's operation is that mascara advertisers didn't flock to the pages of the Sunday Source.

Only Snider’s Super Foods of Silver Spring did. This discount grocer had a 52-week deal with the Sunday Source, and they loved what Sunday Source did for them. Store Vice President David Snider reported that his 5-inch ad was “effective” and appreciated the exclusivity that the section’s advertising drought afforded him: “Most weeks, I think, we’re the only advertiser.” When asked if the grocer would stick with the Post if Sunday Source were folded, Snider replied that they’d have to “reevaluate.” Snider, furthermore, suggested that his ad for Home Roast Natural-Maple Turkey Breast ($5.88 lb.) and other products constituted a readership draw for the Source. “My customers just look for it every week.”

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  • Frobozz

    Sunday Source is what all newspapers will look like when marketers reach their ultimate goal of becoming editors...and those newspapers will be just as successful as the Source.

  • bob

    The funny part is that the Post already has a very well-put-together product that does everything the Source did and much more, and has since 2003. And it comes out every weekday. And it's free. And they give it away at Metro stations every morning. Ring any bells?

  • Den

    Call me crazy, but I liked Sunday Source. Especially the books/CDs/Games grid. It was a quick way to find out what was out,and whether it was any good, and the writing in the section was generally crisp and focused and clever. All great magazines have FOB sections. Source was the equivalent of the Sunday Post FOB section.

    Yeah, I read the long stories on A-1 too, not to mention the 3,000 word marathons in Style (unless I can tell the writer is sucking the thumb before the jump ... Style seems to really be into hiring thumbsucker, notebook dumpers over the last 10 years). But newspapers should be able to serve all kinds of interests and needs and Source was very good at what it did: Quick hit service features. At least nobody would accuse any of their writers of dumping their notebooks in the interest of self-gratification.

  • Dave

    I agree with Den. Even though the Source was a total advertising shill, I don't think it ever pretended that it wasn't. It was very good for what it was. I also liked the books/CDs/Games grid. And, as Den said, the Source was often times head and shoulders more enjoyable than Sunday's Style section, which is nearly unreadable at this point. I can't say I'll be crying myself to sleep over the demise of the Sunday Source, but it wasn't terrible. You have to give it that.

  • al gonzales

    The "Source" section stunk. The "three guys" column was about the most stupid thing ever to appear in print. The rest of the section was filled with the same juvenile, snarky diatribes that appear in the "Style" section. & that trash that clutters the buses & subways that the Post foists upon people too lazy &/or cheap to buy & read a real newspaper - I think it's called the Express - is perhaps the absolute nadir of American "publishing" & the Post should pay $10,000 to Metro everyday for the costs of picking up that trash. The cheap, lazy people who take a copy apparently have not enough sense or citizenship to dispose of the copies properly.

  • Dave

    Hyperbolic much, al?

  • Den

    Thanks Dave. I'm a big fan of the Style/Magazine's glory period in the 1980s/early 1990s. Bradley really knew how to make sure that section hit the right notes. No editor had ever attempted to launch a section like that, and he knew if it wasn't brilliant, it would have failed. As a result, it like getting a great magazine read in your newspaper every day.

    But, as it happens even with the great magazines, talent moves elsewhere and the new hires simply don't have the chops. They think anything snarky is inherently clever. (This means you, HS.) Anything long for the sake of being long is automatically great. (This means you, pretty much everyone on staff.) So instead of engaging readers, they simply indulge themselves.

    And would it kill the Style Invitational to actually be funny again on more than an occasional basis? It hasn't been the same since Weingarten stopped editing it. He's one of the last great talents in the Post features dept these days.

  • al gonzales

    I'm a hyperbolic, alcoholic, melancholic, vitriolic man. Thanks for your concern.

  • http://www.nancyimperiale.com Nancy Imperiale

    Den, I find myself laughing and agreeing with some of what you wrote. But I also have to reassure you and al not to worry so much.

    Many of us "notebook dumper" feature writers are out of jobs, thanks to the Internet, and ADD readers, and the sorry state of newspapers.

    Looks like some colleagues in Washington will be joining us. Great. More people to try and outbid for freelance work.

    Just be careful what you wish for. I'd rather read a 3,000-word feature story than a 3,000-word technical manual.

  • Tricia Olszewski

    I'm stunned that it took so long; I figured it'd be gone within a year.

    But I gotta admit I started to love how awfully convenient it was to get a side of makeup advice with my world news.

  • thefrontpage

    The Sunday Source, as 9.9 out of 10 people know and understand, was one of the Post's worst decisions in the last five years, along with about 20 other bad decisions--and this is coming from a group of still-diehard Washington Post fans and subscribers, some of whom are journalists, some of whom are not. Anyways, the Source stunk. It was terrible. It was juevenile, snarky (that's a bad thing, twentysomethings), childish, very amateurish, poorly-written, poorly-edited, filled with non-news, lacking in news, lacking in style and substance, and strangely, dumbly, duplicative of other, better feature, entertainment and popular culture news that could be found every day in Style and every Friday in the still-great Weekend section. The Source should have been a two-year experiment--and nothing more. By the way, folks, no one is being fired with the thankful Source death--the staff is being incorporate into Style and Weekend, according to the Post.

  • Don

    When Snarky becomes a bad thing then the Colbert Report and Daily Show will become the worst TV shows being broadcast.

    Also, did Al G really call people who read free newspapers: "people too lazy &/or cheap to buy & read a real newspaper" and do so in the comments section of a free weekly?

    Al, for more, go to:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

  • Chris

    My theory about newspapers is the same about best-selling books. Just because people are buying them doesn't mean they are reading them. People buy the Sunday Post for the comics and the coupons. They surf it for free on the weekdays.

  • Fed Up

    As a freelancer for the Source, even I can't say I'm sorry to see it go. That section was notorious for rejecting story ideas, then serving them up with the most minor of tweaks to favored writers. The editing process was a nightmare. Don't even get me started on the weak pay.

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