An Inside Look at News Innovation: Capital Business

When many news organizations are figuring out how to restructure operations as well as innovate these days, other news entities are ahead of the curve.

capbusiness-outsideThe Hub takes an inside look at the weekly publication Capital Business, a unique news initiative of the Washington Post.

This stand-alone business launched in April 2010 as a weekly publication as part of a special package for print subscribers of the Washington Post. The weekly seeks to cover issues related to banking, real estate, retail, technology, government contracts and the Washington D.C. business community.

Since 2010, the weekly has continued to grow. In October of last year, Capital Business announced it was expanding to offer a new web channel called On Small Business that focuses on entrepreneurship.

Dan Beyers, editor of Capital Business and veteran Washington Post local business editor, tells us in this special Q&A session with the Hub how Capital Business has succeeded in these changing journalistic times.

Amy: How did the idea of the Capital Business come up?
Dan: We have been hearing for some time from local leaders about their appetite for more coverage of the local business community. We wanted to find a way to serve that audience.

Amy: How many people work for Capital Business and On Small Business? Has the staff size grown in the past year or declined?
Dan: We are a dozen full time now and we also leverage the resources of the newsroom staff for IT, administrative, reporting and other help. We have been selectively expanding staff where needs arise.

Amy: What audiences did the Washington Post think they could market with this new product?
Dan: Capital Business first and foremost is an attempt to expand coverage of the people who run companies or aspire to do so. We live in an entrepreneurial age and we wanted to focus on people who are starting and building business, be they startups or giant companies in transition. We wanted to create a publication that would bridge geographical boundaries – allow the Maryland business community to talk with counterparts in Northern Virginia and DC – and bridge business segments. Government contractors can learn what’s up in the legal community. Retailers can learn what’s going on in local technology.

Amy: What has been the most successful story in Capital Business that the business-to-business audience has found the most helpful?
Dan: B2b readers are really no different than other readers. They like scoops. They like lists with lots of names. They like information that tells them who is up and who is down. What they don’t want is some clever rehash of information they can find in a hundred other places – they want original reporting.

Amy: Since 2010, how has the publication performed?
Dan: We have proven to ourselves that there is a niche audience willing to pay for premium content, and that advertisers are keen on reaching this group. We are on target with our business plan.

Amy: Does the newspaper see Capital Business as another section to the newspaper or as another media entity?
Dan: We are a stand-alone business; ultimately our success rises or falls on the success of Capital Business. That said we are also unique in that Capital Business staff is embedded in the Post newsroom and contributes regularly to the daily operations. We believe Capital Business benefits by its association to the Post and visa versa.

onsmallbusiness-outsideAmy: The magazine launched a new online section called On Small Business last October, since that launch – what has been the reception/feedback from the small business community?
Dan: Capital Business is an attempt to focus directly on the Washington local business community. On Small Business is attempt to cover small business issues nationally, and focus on a segment many policy makers consider important to the recovery of the national economy. We’ve been pleased with the response from small business people to participate in our forums and comment on stories. Our traffic to the site has exceeded targets.

Amy: How do business-to-business/niche media products such as Capital Business represent the future of the journalism industry?
Dan: Capital Business represents a chance to explore whether something like the HBO model is applicable to The Washington Post. We assumed the vast majority of our readers are already consumers of the Post (your basic cable) and we thought there might be a niche audience willing to pay a little extra for premium content focused around local business. We also like to think we are shining a light on an activity that consumes much of people’s waking hours, but doesn’t really get the attention it deserves.

Amy: As more individuals are dabbling in entrepreneurship, what are your plans this year to cover the start-up business market in 2012?
Dan: We view our editorial mission in part as educational, helping people learn how people start and grow businesses. We offer advice columns such as Business Rx, in which people write in about business problems they face and experts at the University of Maryland’s Robert Smith School of Business offer suggestions for how to handle. Really, though, we try to write and edit all articles to provide some insight into how decisions are made.

Amy: What are the plans for Capital Business this year (including On Small Business)?
Dan: We are not yet two years old so we have a lot of work to do. Our principal goal is to keep growing and establishing ourselves in the business community. We think entrepreneurially and are not afraid to try new things when we think it will serve the readers.