The Washington Post’s Online Strategy

There’s a couple of news organizations that provide most of the fuel for the blogosphere – the top three being the New York Times, CNN, and Washington Post (with Yahoo News and the BBC up there as well).

Comparing those top two newspapers (representing the oldest of the old media) – the contrast between their respective online strategies couldn’t be starker if it was night and day. Whereas the NYT insists on keeping their content hidden behind registrations (thank you BugMeNot), pay walls, and availability windows of only a few weeks – Washington Post has slowly been opening up its content, (reluctantly) inviting comments, engaging the blogosphere, and even hosting a few blogs of their own. Their pages all include links to Technorati and Del.icio.us, and they haven’t adopted any of the idiotic walled-garden policies of the New York Times.

Now, a couple of days ago, Washington Post launched a new right wing blog, Red America. I didn’t talk about it at the time, because frankly, I didn’t care (other than noting that the author is nearly the same age as me and likely getting paid more than me to do this. Grrr…). He’s just another right wing screeching head, hurling visceral and delusional comments, no differently from Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly, except lacking their style and showmanship. Of course, while I noticed it, the blogosphere jumped all over it, dominating the front page of Memeorandum that day, both the blog and the newspaper heavily coming under heavy criticism.

Once again, I’ll reiterate: I didn’t care. The great thing about the blogosphere is that it really doesn’t matter how many of what kind of blogs there are or who hosts them – network effects have this way of weeding out the crap and identifying BS when someone spouts it. Sure enough, by the next day the story was gone from Memeorandum.

But now, here’s the thing that amazed me: two days later, this blogger is again dominating Memeorandum, apparently for some comments he made in typical right-wing inflammatory style (he called Coretta Scott King a communist).

Love him, hate him, this guy is getting a lot of attention. And for the Washington Post, that means a lot of linkage, and a lot of eyeballs for advertisers.

Which brings me to my point. On the one hand, I think it’s great to see the Washington Post evolving into a newspaper for the internet age, serving as a model for others to follow. But on the other hand, I don’t like this way they’re going about it – this kind of insubstantial and polarizing rhetoric is the thing that turned cable news into a steaming pile of crap. Getting attention is their business; but I’d rather see them do it with quality journalism than what’s tantamount to trolling the blogosphere. Maybe I’m asking too much though?

Update: Maybe it wasn’t so deliberate on the part of WaPo after all… looks like the guy resigned over charges of plagiarism.

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