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Layoffs Hit Washington Post Mobile Team 108

Posted by timothy
from the tough-market dept.
imac.usr writes "The Huffington Post is reporting that The Washington Post has gone through yet another round of layoffs, but this time instead of cutting editorial positions, they're apparently cutting IT positions, specifically in the mobile applications department. According to Washington, DC media blog FishbowlDC, 54 people, including the General Manager of Mobile and Director of Mobile Products, were given the axe on Valentine's Day. A particularly damning quote from the FishbowlDC article: '"[CIO and VP Shaliesh] Prakash thinks these are 'inefficiencies' – that is the exact word he uses for human beings who are not useful according to him," said a source who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "Get rid of experienced people to save money, under the garb of streamlining is the new trend inside the Post."' Given that mobile products seem somewhat more likely to succeed than printed newspapers, this seems a strange decision at best."
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Layoffs Hit Washington Post Mobile Team

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  • in always capitalist America. I wish it was like that here in Russia.

    • by flyneye (84093) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @09:58AM (#42927429) Homepage

      Well ,it's capitalist like Warren "Larry the Liquidator" Buffet, just milking the Newspapers for their last shred of profit.
      Have you noticed most newspapers getting bought up, kind of turn into bad news tabloids, filled w/ads?
      That's because, that's what sells the papers now. They're dying anyway and mostly just propaganda and spin, which is just entertaining as you want, but useless for actual news. Eventually,when it cannot sustain itself, all will be fired and assets sold off. It was replaced by the internet. Just like the music industry, it is already dead and being eaten alive, it just won't admit it to itself.
      Ironically, it is justice for disservice to mankind and manipulation of information for political agendas. SO, nothing of value was lost. I hope it's like that in Russia.

      • by poofmeisterp (650750) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @11:30AM (#42927977) Journal

        They're dying anyway and mostly just propaganda and spin, which is just entertaining as you want, but useless for actual news. Eventually,when it cannot sustain itself, all will be fired and assets sold off. It was replaced by the internet. Just like the music industry, it is already dead and being eaten alive, it just won't admit it to itself.

        Read what I have to say, please, before you mods troll it out; I'm serious about what I'm saying.

        Those stages all sound like a drug habit.

        That's always been my opinion of successful media-oriented businesses; they start out with good intention. They make money. Things sort of level off. They see some idea that can make them more money and jump at it. It profits like you wouldn't believe. They invest more, more, more in it so they can profit more, more, more. The baseline for what's considered 'acceptable profit base' goes up with each success... Eventually, they do something stupid themselves or the profit-providing sources run dry and they have what I cannot say is any different than withdrawal symptoms.

        That's where the self-destructive (firings) or stealing for a fix (money laundering, tax evasion, etc) tendencies kick in.

        The outcome is determined by how and when they get caught.

        From this article's perspective, it looks like they're at the stage "But I gotta have MORE because it's been so damn good up until now!"

        • by flyneye (84093)

          Well, junkies or not, this is the final fate of Buffets purchases.
          Squeeze till the last dime drops and sell the empty shell.
          No amount of rehab will help it now. Just waiting for the last breath of air in the coffin to stagnate.
          That was what happened to Newspapers. Eventually those spending money will discover news comes faster on Television,Radio and Internet, all basically free. Then they go out with a whimper, not a bang. Everyone fired, auctioneer shows up and you buy an old desk, reception area furnitur

          • by MightyYar (622222)

            He's the fungus of the business world!

            (Earthworm? Mold?)

            That's the nice thing about capitalism - you don't have to be noble to contribute to the system. In fact, it helps to have some vultures in the system.

            In this case, the slowly dying Post is at least opening up some prime real estate in DC [washingtonpost.com] for others to have a go. The endgame as a private company was bankruptcy and liquidation anyway.

      • by bryan1945 (301828)

        Jealous much?

  • Source (Score:5, Interesting)

    by m93 (684512) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @09:30AM (#42927307)
    I wonder if CmdrTaco is the source.
    • My first thought when I saw the headline. Although even 15 minutes of Internet fame is worth as much as a PhD on the job market so he'll be fine.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://xkcd.com/1174/

    • by yog (19073) * on Sunday February 17, 2013 @10:53AM (#42927693) Homepage Journal

      Actually that's pretty spot-on. I hate how every news organization today has to have its own downloadable app. "Welcome to the South Butt-hole Sentinel! Click OK to download our app! Or [typesize=0.001]click here to continue to site."

      I don't want to have a whole menagerie of single-site news apps of varying quality and usability. Aggregator apps such as Currents and Flipboard are a step in the right direction, but they leave me cold as well; they're weird, they pick and choose articles they think I want to see (usually off the mark) and a lot of the periodical's value is lost in translation. Among other things, the talkbacks are stripped out and these days, I find the talkbacks more entertaining and, sometimes more informative, than the original article.

      • by pepty (1976012) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @11:22AM (#42927905)
        Spot on (including the mouseover text), but I doubt news organizations would push their apps so hard unless their monetization of mobile visits required the apps Ads in the sidebar are too small when you load the paper with a normal webbrower; if you zoom in to read the article the ads will get pushed off the screen. No clicks, no revenue for the paper. Using the app means the right ads get sent to your platform and stay where you can see them, whether you like it or not. Hopefully they'll figure out that bad solutions to the problem of getting people to view ads just inspire draconian solutions on our end, like flashing ads spread all over the page inspired adblock and flashblock.
        • I think some of the "news" sites adds are the worst. The less that loads on the page with no script, the worse that organization is. IMHO.
      • Actually that's pretty spot-on. I hate how every news organization today has to have its own downloadable app. "Welcome to the South Butt-hole Sentinel! Click OK to download our app! Or [typesize=0.001]click here to continue to site."

        I don't want to have a whole menagerie of single-site news apps of varying quality and usability. Aggregator apps such as Currents and Flipboard are a step in the right direction, but they leave me cold as well; they're weird, they pick and choose articles they think I want to see (usually off the mark) and a lot of the periodical's value is lost in translation. Among other things, the talkbacks are stripped out and these days, I find the talkbacks more entertaining and, sometimes more informative, than the original article.

        I just think of how funny it is that apps were a positive feature in phones because of their small screens and lack of desktop browser functionality...

        Now that tablets are getting more and more desktop-feature-like, those apps just aren't as helpful in overcoming challenged hardware anymore.

        I guess there's gold in them App-hills and management is having a damn hard time accepting and adapting to change... AGAIN.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Sadly, what we really need is for newspapers to embrace syndication. How ironic, eh? RSS feeds have dwindled, rather than growing. Instead of syndication everyone wants their own app. The purpose is preventing you from going to another news outlet, which is just goddamned stupid because the other news outlet has an app, too, and maybe developed by the same guys who developed the first paper's app, and told them they needed one because the other guy had one. It all stinks of desperation when none of it is ne

  • Taco? (Score:5, Funny)

    by 1u3hr (530656) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @09:34AM (#42927325)
    Was Malda given the chop? He was supposed to be some kind of Web 2.0 guru for them/ If they gave up on that mirage, his position is precarious. He's unlikely to be welcomed back here as editor. Though we will probably see more of him as a contributor as you cant spend all your life consuming drugs and hookers..
    • by isorox (205688)

      Was Malda given the chop? He was supposed to be some kind of Web 2.0 guru for them/ If they gave up on that mirage, his position is precarious. He's unlikely to be welcomed back here as editor. Though we will probably see more of him as a contributor as you cant spend all your life consuming drugs and hookers..

      It would be good if he started a new blog, slashdot back to basics. I guess he signed a non-compete agreement.

      • by Nidi62 (1525137)

        It would be good if he started a new blog, slashdot back to basics. I guess he signed a non-compete agreement.

        Well the good thing is, since Slashdot seems to be turning into just an advertising/job board for Dice, he can run stories that slashdot used to run without having to worry about breaking the non-compete.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I guess he signed a non-compete agreement.

        I would expect that he signed a non-competition agreement.

        Tell me, do you carry a drive license and a pay card? Do you use a browse app on your compute device?

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          I don't know what a non-competition agreement is, but I've signed more than one non-compete agreement [nolo.com]. It's the name of the agreement because of the non-compete [wikipedia.org] clause, a term used in contract law. It's not supposed to grammatically correct. If I signed an "ain't nobody got time for that" agreement, it would still be called an "ain't nobody got time for that agreement" despite the poor grammatical form.

      • Not trying to be mean, but while Slashdot 1.0 was "good" it was despite its flaws, which increased over time as the code was hacked upon to make it appeal more to Rob's vision.

        In some ways, Rob Malda is the George Lucas of blogs.

    • Though we will probably see more of him as a contributor as you cant spend all your life consuming drugs and hookers

      I highly doubt he made enough money from the sale of slashdot to afford drugs or hookers - or at least, not decent examples of either. In fact he may want to look into selling some of the former (though hopefully none of the latter) if he wants to make some money while he's still young; I doubt there are many other companies who want to hire someone to constantly write about facebook.

  • by hessian (467078) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @10:12AM (#42927477) Homepage Journal

    There are many things in Net 2.0 that are very popular, but that do not necessarily have utility or profitability.

    For example, just about everyone and their dog (on the internet, no one can tell you're a werewolf) uses Facebook, and before it MySpace, Friendster, Digg, Reddit, etc. But do these services have a working business model? It seems they all flounder at that point.

    It seems to me that most Net 2.0 firms have an unsustainable business model, which is:

    1. Get really popular.
    2. ???
    3. Sell company -> Profit!

    In the same way, we know we've got a lot of people who like using their phones to tweet, click, troll, sext, etc. But is this actually useful? And other than the cell phone providers, is anyone making money off this with a sustainable model?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Is it a big assumption that mobile will do better than newspapers in the future? News on paper exists today only because of inertia.

      • by Shavano (2541114)

        Is it a big assumption that mobile will do better than newspapers in the future? News on paper exists today only because of inertia.

        Yes, it's BIG assumption. Making money on news delivery is hard.

        Historical models for making money on news delivery:

        • bards -- worked for a while until newspapers came along
        • newspapers -- worked for a while until electronic media came along
        • radio -- still works, but news is now eclipsed by "news talk"
        • television -- still works

        Methods of news delivery that remain unproven as money-makers:

        • Web pages
        • Mobile news apps
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          You can deliver television-like content via mobile.

          Getting paid delivering news works for a lot of sites, which are ad-supported. Or slashvertisement-supported.

          • by Shavano (2541114)

            But do they pay for researching and writing stories? Sites break down, from what I've seen, into two major categories: (1) adjunct outlets for newspaper, broadcast and cable news outlets (2) aggregator and commenting sites like (majors like Google or Yahoo, mid-rank like DrudgeReport or HuffPost and minor league like slashdot).

            The latter category are parasitic, including slashdot. They feed off news content generated by newspapers, television and radio news and contribute little or nothing to news conten

            • Re: with each such service having a self-selected audience attuned to their sitegeist. they tend not to expand the horizons of your knowledge ...
              .
              I like your neologism "sitegeist", which I presume to mean the "zeitgeist" of the website. Was that intentional or a homonymnal-typo?
              ;>)
              btw, I also agree with your assessment. I've randomly followed a few newslinks to the washingtonpost and been rebuffed with the "this content is for paying subscribers only". But I can see their point also when aggregato
              • by Shavano (2541114)
                Intentional, BUT as it turns out, there is already something called "sitegeist." (http://sitegeist.sunlightfoundation.com/) That focuses on PHYSICAL location. My intent was focusing on, as you say, the prevailing viewpoints associated with a website. I am not the first person to use the term that way. See http://www.sitegeist.com.au/ [sitegeist.com.au].
      • Or some people just like the way it feels when held in one hand, reading an article, while eating their breakfast with the other.

        Holding a tablet, no matter how light, just isn't the same.

        Plus anyone will annoy someone else while holding a tablet; they may not do so while reading a newspaper ("Talking to me during newspaper time is expressly forbidden"). With a tablet, well, they may not know when you are or are not reading the online newspaper, so they will inevitably interrupt you.

        On that note, I miss the

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Holding a tablet, no matter how light, just isn't the same.

          OK, so when the current generation of news readers dies, we can finally stop killing trees so that people can have outdated, noninteractive news?

          Plus anyone will annoy someone else while holding a tablet; they may not do so while reading a newspaper ("Talking to me during newspaper time is expressly forbidden"). With a tablet, well, they may not know when you are or are not reading the online newspaper, so they will inevitably interrupt you.

          OK, so when the current generation of people who hassle people reading tablets dies...

          On that note, I miss the old Wall St. Journal. I liked the wider paper, among other things.

          Well, I hate everything about printed newspapers, and to me they can't go away fast enough.

    • obligatory:

      xkcd [xkcd.com]

      heck, even slashdot does this, to some degree...
    • by yincrash (854885)
      Facebook made $1 billion in profit last year, so I'm not sure how your argument holds water.
    • 3. Sell company -> Profit!

      Call it "chasing the eyeballs", it's just tech harvesting p/r and ad money. It's really funny like a dog chasing its tail.

  • by cultiv8 (1660093)
    Removing the need for expensive mobile teams and relying on mobile app stores since 2012.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Agree that if WaPo decided that it's future wasn't in mobile, that would be a strange decision. But I'm reading it as, our mobile operation hasn't been successful and we're bleeding cash as a company. Let's fire the guy in charge of that and all the folks he brought on board, and maybe start again a few months down the road with a different guy, or maybe partner with a tech company.

  • by tlambert (566799) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @10:32AM (#42927549)

    The source is unhappy they were let go. The 'inefficiencies' terminology was not attributed in the original source article, which includes a copy of the memo; I'm surprised no one has posted a link to the source article yet, so here it is:

    http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowldc/washington-post-layoffs-valentines-day_b96626 [mediabistro.com]

    According to the original source article, more people than just the mobile team were let go.

    I can understand them doing this, particularly since they referenced Web 2.0 in their hiring of Rob Malda (cmdrtaco), HTML5 is enough along that it can be used to deliver the content in a reasonable way, using a centralized paywall, and trying to maintain 7 iOS apps and 100's of Android apps, due to minor variations in platform, makes a browser-based experience a no-brainer, in terms of the money they spend on development.

    Overall, I think this does not bode well for non-game, non-vertical market app writers, so for all the people who are thinking that going to app writing is going to be a really lucrative payoff, this is probably the beginning of a trend, and they should consider some other line of work.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      rying to maintain 7 iOS apps and 100's of Android apps, due to minor variations in platform, makes a browser-based experience a no-brainer, in terms of the money they spend on development.

      This is where you lost me. This is nonsense. Unless your app is very complex, you can usually get away with just one version. MAYBE two versions; a limited legacy version and a full-featured current version. And on iOS you REALLY don't need multiple versions. On the other hand, then there's still those poor Windows Phone users, it's tempting to just forget about them but many people get suckered into them one way or another. And also next_platform_of_the_week.

      It is however true that most trivial apps which

    • by whoever57 (658626)
      Check out the reviews of the Windows Phone app [windowsphone.com]. When a newpaper's app has obvious misspellings that are uncorrected for over a year, it doesn't reflect well on that newpaper's mobile team.
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @11:18AM (#42927853)

    It has been bandied about for over a decade by consulting agencies who have been hired by corporations who have already decided to downsize.

  • Stopped looking at WaPo front page some time ago because of the horrible stories there, but would read stories in it on occasion if linked or sent to me. Stopped reading WaPo entirely after this complete junk free internet story [arstechnica.com]. I live in DC and local blogs are better news sources than WaPo for local news, and for national news there are plenty of other sources. WaPo is never anything but an utter waste of time. Too bad--newspaper of Woodward and Bernstein and all that.

    • local blogs are better news sources than WaPo for local news

      I'm not in DC, but I've never found this to be the case unless all you care about is one single narrow issue. Blogs always spring up to beat some particular horse to death, but I haven't seen them do much actual news gathering.

      If you really believed this to be true, you should've at least provided a link to one of your area' blogs that covers a wide range of local news without relying on stories originating with either the local newspapers, local news radio, or local television news reporting.

  • As a local (northern Virginia) I read the Washington Post online. I also have an Android phone. I have not used the Post's mobile apps. Not even once. Before reading this article, it had not even occurred to me that I might want to.

    This says something about the value of the post's mobile apps and, by extension, the 54 (54!!) people hired to build and maintain them.

  • WaPo Employee here (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:42PM (#42930775)

    A few facts to clarify things here.

    The Post isn't getting rid of their entire mobile division. Basically, there was a product management team that collaborated with the news room and developers to build these products.

    It seems that once the core products were built, it was decided that the news room would just take over maintenance of these products and the people who created them were thanked with a pink slip in order to cut costs.

    Washington Post is a print-first company with absolutely no true desire to go mobile. It threatens their core (and dying) business model: maintaining circulation of a newspaper with overpriced ads.

  • I have just experienced this at my current company. They are just cutting many experienced development positions and then outsourcing those jobs to India. This is for a large thriving ecommerce company.
  • by sampson7 (536545) on Monday February 18, 2013 @03:18PM (#42937913)
    I am a DC refuge and was a dedicated Post dead-tree reader for decades. These days, I primarily access the Washington Post through their website (which I would happily pay for, by the way). As an avid consumer of online media, I can personally attest that the Post's implementation of "mobile" content is just abysmal. Their iPad app was, until a few months ago, a total embarassment. Many of their "special" mobile features (of which I have downloaded and deleted more then one within minutes of downloading them) crash more often then they work. Frankly, if I were the editor-in-chief, I would have fired the mobile division staff for sheer incompetence long ago.

    I have no inside information -- but I wonder if there's a positive take from all of this: the Washington Post has long been behind the curve in reaching out on mobile devices. Perhaps this isn't the end of their efforts to improve their web presence, but the beginning of a more serious effort. Just a thought. Time will tell.
  • Let me guess: the jobs that were just eliminated will be sent to India. Based on the CIO's surname, it wouldn't surprise me if that's exactly what happens.

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