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.
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.”