During a Q&A at SIIA, Caroline Little, CEO of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive discussed the role of digital at the Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) and how it fits strategically with the print side of the business. For the most part, the conversation with Hal Espo of Contextual Connections consisted of a lot of quick questions and answers on a range of topics, including Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Facebook and Craigslist. Some highlights:
— TheRoot: The company’s site targeting a black audience just launched. Little played down expectations, noting that it’s difficult to build up traffic organically.
— Unrealistic expectations: She said that it’s unrealistic to expect the online side to recreate the marketplace for advertising that a monopoly print publication had.
— Digital-print cooperation: Little ticked off a few ways in which the two sides of the business, print and digital, are feeding off of each other. The digital side has taught the print reporters how to take video and upload them to the site, while the print side has started taking stills from online videos and using them in the paper. In terms of editorial content, she cited the (rather dated) Monica Lewinsky story as an example of a story that broke on the site first, before the paper.
— New digital initiatives: In addition to the aforementioned TheRoots site, other plans include user-gen picture uploads in March and video uploads the following month. It’s also going to do a site redesign that delivers more relevant content to readers, depending on who is accessing the site (local vs. national readers).
— Competition or partners?: Despite the perception that Craigslist is the big enemy of the industry, Little denied that that’s the case at WaPo. Merchandise sales aren’t a big part of the company’s classifieds strategy, while other sites, like Monster are more important for Jobs. But they’re keeping an eye on Craigslist. As for Facebook, they’ve done some experimenting with widgets and news feeds, which she says have brought in a “fair” amount of traffic. She also said that the company tried investing in Facebook a long while back, though she didn’t give any details on that. (WaPo Chairman Don Graham is friendly with Mark Zuckerberg and has an active Facebook account.) On Google, not surprisingly, she called it a competitor and a partner. When asked how she felt about Google’s view of copyright and intellectual property, she just offered “no comment.”
— Finances: In response to a question, Little confirmed that WPNI has been profitable for four years, though before that it was losing money badly. No details. (Then again, unless something major has changed, WPNI doesn’t cover the costs of most of its content.)