Takeaways from Washington Post's Popular New Travel Initiative

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The Washington Post has started a new travel initiative called By the Way and it's getting a lot of buzz. Of course, none of us have the resources of the Amazon-owned Post, but there are some lessons to be learned on innovation and starting a new initiative from their story. The quotes are from an interview on Medium.com

Think about more ways your staff can contribute. The Post "tapped journalists in 50 cities around the world to write guides on their cities that will include their favorite neighborhoods for people to stay in, places to eat, and things to do," said editor Amanda Finnegan. Maybe your writers come across something a bit off-topic in their reporting, but could be of interest to readers.

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Test, test, test. The Post looked at a bunch of ideas but Finnegan heard from friends that they were tired of traditional travel content—this idea that the most popular tourist places were really crowded, and they wanted more of an authentic experience. "It was one of a bunch of things we studied, and it tested off the charts," said Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the Post's managing editor of digital. "It was the strongest, most successful test we've ever run for a new content idea."

(There's that word "experience" again. "With the market being saturated with conferences and events, we're seeing our audience crave better experiences," SIPA Rising Star finalist Jenn Ocampo of Cynopsis told me recently. "Consumerization of events is the future, and attendees want to go where they will learn, network and have unique experiences.")

Don't assume about audiences. When this travel idea began to ferment, the Post envisioned it as a way to reach young people. But their business model shifted after they tested and it did well with older readers as well, many of whom were subscribers. "We realized we have to diversify our offerings to our readers," Garcia-Ruiz said. "... We want people to come to us because we offer something really unique and special."

Give new ideas their own identity. During a webinar we had last year, Blake Althen of a podcast company called Human Factor advised organizations to give their podcast its own home. Spidell does this with its California Minute — www.caltaxminute.com/. Similarly, the Post now boasts ByTheWay.com. "It'll have a different look and feel than our traditional news stories," Garcia-Ruiz said. "It will be highly visual, heavily designed, and we will have a weekly newsletter that will come out on Thursday afternoons."

Match your innovation or new idea with the platform(s) that will serve it best. "We look at all the different platforms that are out there and try to figure out what of our content fits best where," said Garcia-Ruiz. "So in the case of travel, it was kind of a no-brainer that Instagram would be the place to go, because you want something that is very visual and appealing to the eye."

Create a culture where staff feels comfortable pitching ideas. Said Finnegan: "This is an idea that I started pitching to the Post in March 2018, and the concept developed from there. We really looked at how people are traveling today — especially younger travelers...—but we think this concept really resonates with all sorts of travelers." Elizabeth Green, president of Brief Media, has talked about the contributions of her staff in this way and is proud of having developed a culture that encourages pitching ideas.

Expand your existing coverage—make it personalized and "useable." The Post always had a travel section, of course, but this felt like something they could make more personalized. "Travel content in a lot of places has gotten really aspirational—we definitely see that on Instagram with influencers and photos of over-water bungalows—and we really wanted to give people something that felt accessible," said Finnegan. "In these guides, there's a range of options in every category, as we really wanted to do something that people will actually use... People really want to know how the news affects them personally and want tangible things."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…