You may have seen Paul Farhi’s interview with Jeff Bezos in today’s Washington Post, the newspaper he’s buying for $250 million. If you saw it in print, you found it on Page A1, on the left below the fold. If you saw it on washingtonpost.com, who knows how you found it — Twitter? a Google Alert? an email newsletter? — but once you did, you saw a URL that started with /lifestyle/style/ and “Style” emblazoned on top of the page.
Since when is an interview with the new billionaire owner of a newspaper a Lifestyles/Style story?
Old newspaper hands know that the Post’s Style section has long had an unusual-for-American-newspapers relationship with the paper as a whole — sometimes covering the same political stories that an A-section reporter does, but from a different angle. Style has been a big Post asset. But that unusual divide isn’t really the issue here: It’s that the story in the print paper actually ran on A1, not in Style. So if it’s a business story on A1, why does it get a big Style banner?
Answering this question falls somewhere short of a national crisis, but it still got some smart people riled up. A cast of characters: Dan Sinker runs Knight-Mozilla OpenNews; Alex Howard writes from D.C. on nerdy issues; J. Freedom du Lac works at the Post; Jacob Harris codes for The New York Times.
So why’d it run there? Turns out the answer has to do with where Paul Farhi’s desk is:
Some folks didn’t like that explanation.
They’re arguing, in other words, that a print structure — and the system of “desks” and “sections” in the modern American newspaper evolved in a manner particular to its print-centric, production-minded context — shouldn’t constrain the needs of digital publishing. As in:
And, Sideboob aside, they mention another born-digital news organization that doesn’t stick to rigid, topic-based structure.
Again: The fact that a Jeff Bezos interview ran with a /lifestyles/ URL and a Style banner doesn’t mean much. I doubt it cost the story a single reader. But it’s good to be reminded that, as part of the newspaper industry’s sleepwalk into digital, it carried a lot of old habits/workflows/assumptions with it. And dealing with that fact — a fact that, again, is far broader in scope than a URL structure — will be one of the keys to how Bezos and his team can turn the Post around.