Local or National?

In his washingtonpost.com chat, Howard Kurtz fields an important question about his paper’s mission and business strategy:

    Chicago, Ill.: Does the Washington Post want to be a national or local newspaper? I ask, because instead of Deborah Howell answering the mail she gets from readers concerning the Post’s coverage of national news, she wrote a 750 word plea for more questions about local news!

    I don’t think the Post can have it both ways. The Post can’t interject itself into national issues at the level of a paper like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, then back away and claims its a local paper when the heat starts to come. If the Washington Post has national reach; if the Washington Post has reporters on NBC, CNN, ESPN and MSNBC; If the Washington Post has reporters covering the White House and foreign correspondents; how can its editors and ombudsmen still claim its a local newspaper? Maybe I should cancel my subscription and throw it in the garbage.

    Howard Kurtz: Easy. As she pointed out, 90 percent of its circulation is within 50 miles of Washington. Unlike the NYT, WSJ and USA, you can’t easily buy it in Michigan or Missouri. But I’m not following your argument. The Post isn’t backing away from anything. It’s a newspaper with a large national and foreign staff that also has global reach thanks to the Net, and nobody here would deny that. The fact that it’s primarily a local paper in terms of dead-tree sales doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be held accountable on national and foreign reporting. As best I could tell, Deborah Howell was just soliciting more letters — which is to say, criticism — on local issues.