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Death of ‘WAPO’ Points to Differences Between Radio, Print

I’ve gotta riff on the upcoming “death” of Washington Post Radio, which we reported last week.

I’ve gotta riff on the upcoming “death” of Washington Post Radio, which we reported last week.

Dubbed “NPR on caffeine” by executives when it launched 18 months ago, the venture between Bonneville International and the Washington Post is ending, reportedly because the station lost money and had few listeners.

Bonneville International said it will end its deal with the Post to program the station and re-launch the station as talk radio WWWT on Sept. 20.

While an interesting experiment, I’ve got to wonder if the Post reporters received broadcast training, and if they did, what kind, exactly? Some of the “Posties” were good on the air while others sounded uncomfortable.

Writing for the “eye” vs. for the “ear” — and being comfortable with the needs of each medium — is different.

Back when I covered Annapolis for a statewide commercial radio news network, we (the clannish radio reporters) used to call the print reporters “the inkies.” We had separate newsrooms in the basement of the state capitol building, but many times we worked together in the same spaces.

When things got hairy and deadlines were tight back during Maryland’s savings & loan crisis, we had to “school” the inkies if they were with us conducting joint interviews. Otherwise they would jangle change in their pocket, unconsciously say things like “uh huh” after every sentence the interviewee uttered, and just generally did and said things that messed up our tape.

We were getting frustrated, but they didn’t realize what they were doing. We eventually worked it out after a lot of screaming about whose deadline was more important. That led to a summit with representatives from both sides, where rules were drawn up about who would get what in the first 5 minutes of interviews.

I’m not saying these were the things going on at “WAPO,” but there’s a lesson in both examples: Radio and print are different in both reporting and presentation. It takes time for someone comfortable working in one medium to achieve that same comfort level and professional expertise in the other.

Who knows? Maybe with the proper training and unending financial resources, the idea could have worked. But the outcome of the Post/Bonneville experiment is a cautionary lesson for any “old media” types who are dreaming about such alliances to help them fight more effectively in the “new media” world.