The Washington Examiner Rises from the Ashes of Newsprint
This interview is a part of a larger feature documenting some of the most exciting magazine launches and relaunches of the past two years. Click here to view more interviews with publishers of newly launched or relaunched titles.
For just over eight years, The Washington Examiner existed as a conservative-leaning daily tabloid that covered local news in the nation's capitol. But in March 2013, the paper's parent company announced an unexpected about-face: The newspaper was folding, and being retooled as an online publication and a weekly print magazine with a focus on politics and policy. MediaDC CEO Lou Ann Sabatier, a longtime publishing consultant hired to lead the revamped brand, spoke about the Examiner's new national direction.
What sort of audience is the new Washington Examiner trying to reach?
Well, the positioning of this brand is interesting, in that we call it "centered-right." We're the only brand that really covers a diversity [of views], from independent to libertarian to moderate, and from traditional Republican to Tea Party. That's really what the right is today -- it's an amalgam of all of those, and we have writers who represent that whole spectrum.
The print publication is targeted to the people who work in politics and who influence political discussions. It's focused inside the Beltway. The website includes those people, but it also targets a nationwide consumer who is deeply interested in politics.
But here is what's really important to note about this brand: I don't want scale for scale's sake. I want people who are interested in the context, and I want to be relevant to their lives. And so as that audience builds, I'm trying to build it intentionally. It's not like I'm trying to keep people out, but I'm not writing for the masses. So [regarding] growth, as long as there's momentum and it's going in the right direction, I'm happy.
Why did you decide to launch a print magazine along with the website?
The reason we're in print is because the Hill still reads print. And we're using it as a driver to our digital products -- not only our website, but our newsletters, our apps, our ebooks. And a lot of the advocacy advertising is still in print, according to Kantar Media. But because what we're doing changes so quickly, our focus is much more on digital.
We're trying to use print in the future for more long-form content, and as a compliment to the digital. But what we don't want is to have people think this brand is anchored by print. It's not. It's anchored by digital, and print compliments it. And I'd like to be quoted on that.
How is the print product distributed?
It's a controlled list, so it's [distributed] by mail and by hand, 37 times a year, when Congress is in session. And we're changing that list weekly; it's always evolving. When a politician steps down, or when a political lobbyist or a think tank researcher arrives here on the Hill, it gets updated.
Can you talk about the strategy behind your digital products?
Our company is mission-driven, so we're a little bit different. I'm definitely here to generate revenue, but I'm also here for a mission. My role is to help this brand push its content out to as many people as possible, and people consume in many different ways. So we record some of our articles and you can listen to them as audio. You can listen to us on talk radio. We just released an app and we have news alerts all day long on that. We're taking topical aspects and repacking some of our content as ebooks.
And by the way, some of the people we're exposing these products to may never come to our website or ever see our magazine. What I'm trying to do is find different touch points on how we can move our content into people's hands -- people who are either deeply political at a grass-roots level, or they run campaigns or think tanks, or they're academics, or they're teaching political theory. There's a whole gamut of people involved in the cycle of public policy issues and politics, and they all have their favorite [media outlets].
What are you seeing in terms of revenue with those different platforms?
My revenue model has about five buckets right now. There's online and print advertising, sponsorships, events, and we're starting up ecommerce. And the biggest one is the opportunity that every media company in this country is looking at, which is media services like custom publishing. We call ours "marketing services," and it's very profitable for us.
We've got some major corporations, some associations, some lobbying groups, and they come to us and say, "We have this particular challenge," and we can build a program [for them] from scratch. I'm talking about events across the country, or a series of events broadcast nationwide. We can do white papers, we can do press releases -- all of that. We'll package whatever we need to do to help a client, almost like an agency. That's one of our biggest growth areas, and we're out of the gate with that.
What was the most difficult part of the Examiner's brand repositioning?
Actually, we're not done yet -- we're still pivoting. But the most difficult part is the strategy. We knew it was going to take about 15 months to do the total rollout, and we're still in that process. So I would say having the patience to stick with it. You always want to evolve, but we're doing some massive evolution.
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Dan Eldridge is a journalist and guidebook author based in Philadelphia's historic Old City district, where he and his partner own and operate Kaya Aerial Yoga, the city's only aerial yoga studio. A longtime cultural reporter, Eldridge also writes about small business and entrepreneurship, travel, and the publishing industry. Follow him on Twitter at @YoungPioneers.