The Story On Style

Sridhar Pappu, new Style political reporter, started this week…just in time to read this, from his old place of employment:

    Can Washington Post Style Make Leap?

    Writers for The Washington Post’s Style section–famed as a showcase for broadsheet-literary journalists–are taking video training to prepare for a coming Web redesign. So far, 15 to 20 staffers have been trained, according to washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady.

    The new electronic version of Style is due out in six to eight weeks, Mr. Brady said.

    “In addition to traditional storytelling, Style should be a home for invention and experimentation,” Post managing editor Philip Bennett said.

    In 1969, when editor Benjamin Bradlee launched the daily section, storytelling was the innovation. Style replaced the antiquated women’s section with The Post’s version of New Journalism, complete with first-person writing and lengthy personality profiles.

    Mr. Bradlee, now The Post’s vice president at large, counts Style among his greatest accomplishments. “As far as journalism is concerned, maybe Watergate–but I think Style would have a more permanent impact,” Mr. Bradlee said.

    But the present-day section has been in distress, marginalized by changing times and the rise of the Web. Partly, it’s a victim of its own success, as its once-singular voice has spread throughout the rest of the paper and into the wide world. And partly its long-form approach is at odds with The Post’s space-and-cost-cutting imperatives, and with the paper’s news-first Web strategy.

    Last year, the Style staff was moved out of the fifth-floor newsroom and down to the fourth floor–where the food, health, and home sections reside.

    “Style was being amputated from the news sections that mattered,” said a Post staffer, who described the mood created by the new setup as “funereal.”

    Executive editor Len Downie and Mr. Bennett heightened the gloom with a memo this past fall that raised the prospect of moving general-assignment reporters, who contribute greatly to Style, to specific beats. Last month came another memo: “Every story must earn every inch.”

    There is a pervasive belief among the staff that the section hasn’t translated well to washingtonpost.com, where politics and metro stories usually get top billing.

    “I would say that of all the daily sections on the Web, we have the least presence,” a Style staffer said. “There’s this whole sense that we’re being left behind.”

    Ms. Heard said Style has lagged behind the other sections online “due to the philosophy that the company adopted when our Web site was created–that hard news drives it.”

What’s one solution?

    Bring on the video blogs! “They’re really learning by going out and shooting something,’ Mr. Brady said. “Our attitude is that Style is such a great storytelling section; this is another way to tell a story.”