Q&A with Washington Post ombudsman on innovation

There has been quite a stir about Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton’s column about the Post innovating too fast. Jay Rosen didn’t think that accurately reflected what Pexton really thought. Rosen has a great Q&A that helps explain Pexton’s views further and clarifies a few points.

A few highlights:

PressThink: You wondered aloud in your recent column whether the Post might be trying too much innovation and exhausting the staff, along with the patience of its readers. You quoted a couple of readers saying things to that effect, but I’m guessing that a series of observations over time led up to that column. So what were those observations?

Pexton: Yes, good guess. I think No. 1 is the lack of progress at The Post in getting the Web site to download faster for readers. This has been, and is, such a technological challenge, that readers probably mistakenly blame the new innovations for that, when in fact it’s the technological infrastructure, and the tremendous addition of ad plug-ins, etc. that make the site slow to load.

But I think that the innovations, many of which I support, should be done more selectively, and maybe slow down a little until they get the Web site problems fixed. The @mention machine was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back, for me, and for readers.

PressThink: So your point is that the innovation is coming on top of a “base” that isn’t functioning well, symbolized by the agonizingly slow load times on the site (which I have groaned about myself.) Is that correct?

Pexton: Yes.

PressThink: So maybe what you’re really saying is not that there’s too much innovation being tried but too weak a narrative for how The Post can innovate at the center of its mission and strengths. After all, if innovation means adds ons–bells and whistles–that threaten to detract from the core strengths, that won’t get it done, either… right?

Pexton: Correct. I think, and I’ve commented on this in other columns, that the journalistic direction is not well laid out here, or at least not sufficiently to put the innovations in a framework.

PressThink: “Do everything” is a weak narrative about what needs to change.

Pexton: Yes. What’s the Post’s narrative? I know what the official strategy is, but that’s more of a business strategy than a journalistic one.

I think criticism of the Post’s website is fair. While there is innovation happening at the Post, particularly online, the website itself needs work. It’s not the most attractive, it has too much information per individual page, it’s overloaded with chrome, it takes awhile to load, it doesn’t feel cohesive enough, etc. Those points by Pexton shouldn’t be lightly thrown aside.

The Post does have some good innovation, however. It’s special features are strong. It covers elections well and has some nice interactive infographics. It’s started some very good blogs and is bringing a different style of journalism to those sections.

Source: PressThink.