Washington Biz Journal editor talks redesign, new competition
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
On Friday, the Washington Business Journal will unveil a redesign, its first in five years and just 10 days before the Washington Post launches a competing weekly business newspaper called Capital Business.
In addition, the Business Journal could face additional competition from the owner of Politico, which is planning to launch a DC Metro site soon. However, the paper has struck a deal to provide the site with business news content.
Leading the charge against the attack for the American City Business Journals is Doug Fruehling, editor of the Washington Business Journal. Fruehling had been editor for the past year. Before that, he was the paper’s managing editor. He has also been managing editor of Roll Call, a reporter at the Washington Business Journal and a reporter at the Peoria Journal Star.
A graduate of Ohio University, Fruehling talked Wednesday by e-mail with Talking Biz News about the redesign and about the new competition. What follows is an edited transcript.
1. How did the redesign come about?
It was all my idea, Chris! Actually, we’ve been planning to redesign since I was named editor a year ago. We spent several months mulling options on paper and ad sizes before deciding to stay with our current specs. Then the fun part began — our creative services director Michael Stanaland went to town on everything production guys love. You know, fonts, column widths and point sizes. We went with a font, Publico, that allows us to get more words in a column inch while maintaining readability.
Like any redesign, we really did it for the readers. We felt we were producing so much news but we weren’t showcasing our best work in the print edition every week. The new design allows us to do that. There is so much news on every page, from Page 1 right on through to the back of the book.
2. What are the major changes in the redesign?
When we redesigned five years ago, we decided not to start any stories on Page 1. We had two major teasers to lead readers to stories inside the paper, and lots of tweaks. We also established a no-jump policy at the time, citing studies that show readers don’t actually jump.
We’ve decided to go with a more traditional front page this time around. We will start and jump one, two or three stories from Page 1. Other than that, the biggest change has to do with space. We have a lot more space for news. Our reporters are producing so much good content, but our paper has been heavily weighted toward softer features and how-to stories. Now we’re going hit readers over the head with news on every page. In fact, I wrote a column talking about the changes for the first issue. The headline: “New, improved — and more filling.”
3. Why do this redesign now?
As you know, newspapers need to redesign every couple of years to stay fresh and modern, just like any company’s product. We did major redesigns in 2000 and 2005, so we’re right on schedule to stay up-to-date. If you don’t redesign, your look and your features get stale.
4. You’re also beefing up your editorial staff. Explain those changes and how they will affect the paper.
Two reporters and one editor recently left the paper, so we are filling those positions. We also are adding to reporting positions. The goal is to expand our coverage area. We’ll be improving coverage of federal contracting, technology, health care and law — all sectors vitally important to the Washington economy. In years past, there have been other niche publications that have covered those areas well. But the media recession has taken its toll on them, and we decided we will no longer cede those coverage areas.
5. How much of this is based on the upcoming launch by the Washington Post of Capital Business, a weekly business newspaper in the market?
I’ve been putting our product — both content, beats and design –under the microscope since I became editor 13 months ago. So a lot of the changes have been in the works for a while. Every editor wants to put his or her stamp on the publication, and I’m no different. I’m proud that our new design, our Web effort and our coverage areas really reflect my priorities.
That said, we know competition when we see it. We know the Post will come at us strong, but we plan to go at them strong too. We thrive on competition. I guess it’s just a trait of a good journalist. We have a very strong relationship with our readers and a thorough knowledge of the business community. As our publisher likes to say, we’ve literally seen three business tabs and multiple business Web sites come and go in the last 15 years.
We have a strong brand and we will protect that brand. We’re on the highest-rated radio station in D.C. four times an hour, we get a million page views a month on our Web site, and we hold more than 50 events a year to connect with our readers and our community. We’ve been around since 1982, and we’re not going anywhere.
6. Do you foresee the paper being affected by the new Allbritton Metro project?
We’re excited to see what Allbritton does. We think their experience will go a long way in shaping the future of daily and niche journalism. Jim Brady and Erik Wemple are very innovative journalists and business people. In fact, we have reached a deal with Allbritton and several other media outlets in D.C. to provide them a daily business news feed. It’s good for both of us they don’t have to spend resources covering business news, and our stories get more exposure.
7. How do you think WBJ will stack up against this new competition?
We’ll crush them!
8. Will your beats or anything else change regarding the content?
Like I said before, expect to see more federal contracting, technology, health care and law coverage.
9. How much support have you gotten from the parent company, American City Business Journals, regarding all of this?
Our parent company is 110 percent behind us! OK, seriously, as a journalist I need to strike that phrase from my vocabulary. But really, I’ve been so impressed with how they’ve stepped up to support us. Our CEO, Whit Shaw, has been personally involved since the beginning. We put together a plan to meet and beat the competition head on, and corporate has given us the resources to do so. There’s nothing like a competitor to get a journalist energized. Most of our papers around the country know that we are in a battle for readers, and they’re all doing what they can to help us out.
10. Weekly business papers seem to have fared pretty well during the recession in terms of subscriptions and ad revenue. How has the WBJ done the past few years?
Well, I think the fact that the Post wants a piece of the pie explains it all. We’ve fared incredibly well. Business news is more important now than ever. Our paid readership has been up six straight years, and our ad remains strong. We did not have any layoffs, and we are coming out of the recession in an incredibly strong position. It’s definitely an exciting time to be a business journalist in Washington.