Journalist Q&A: Andrew Pergam, The Washington Post

Andrew Pergam, senior editor, video, at The Washington Post, talks to Virgil Dickson about the newspaper shifting focus toward video and packaging stories in multiple formats.

How long have you been on the staff?
About two years. Originally I came in to consult on what The Washington Post should be doing, and they said 'why don't you stay here and do it.'

What was the goal when they brought you on?
The Washington Post has been doing video for more than 15 years and has won all sorts of awards, but it was longer form, documentary-style videos.

They wanted to do videos in a way that reflected how readers are consuming video, and that's generally in a two- to four-minute format.

You have even hired on-air talent, something that is maybe unheard of for a newspaper.
I think it is. We no longer consider ourselves just a newspaper. We're a news organization that fires on multiple cylinders.

We hired Brook Silva-Braga, who won an Emmy Award for Inside the NFL, and USA Today reporter Jackie Kucinich.

Why them?
They are, first of all, really solid journalists. He used to make documentaries, she was a print reporter. They have great charisma on screen and can tell stories in multiple formats.

The Fold, hosted by Brook Silva-Braga features top stories and big-name guests.

What type of programs are they doing?
Silva-Braga hosts The Fold, which is part of the content we created for our Google TV app. It's also on our site. Henry Kissinger was our first guest. Donald Trump and other big-name guests have also been on the show, as have other Washington Post reporters.

Silva-Braga also reports on other stories, such as a 92-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor.

Kucinich will co-host a show on politics, which we are launching in June. She knows politics inside out and that will resonate with people. The key is that they are both versatile.

Since you have been on staff, how many people have you hired to work on your video projects?
More than two dozen. It is an amazing array of segment, show, and Web producers, along with all sorts of people with different talents.

We're launching a political channel, so that means we have to hire people such as bookers, which haven't been here before. We hired them from places including Yahoo News, Politico.com, Sirius XM, ABC, and NBC.

What sort of investment is the paper making in its video endeavors?
We are being really smart about it. We're not trying to be cable news and we're not trying to be something that we're not. We're spending what we need to spend.

We recognize it's not an inexpensive proposition, but we also know that it's a really important one.

What has the reaction in the newsroom been to the increased focus on using video?
It's been positively accepted. People throughout the newsroom are really excited to work with us on projects.

There is recognition that people who do video are serious journalists, they just happen to be in video format.

What's been your relationship with people in the PR industry?
We get a lot pitches from people outside the newsroom, but we're surprised we haven't gotten more. That will probably change as we produce more content.

What do you look for in pitches?
A real understanding of the type of journalism we do. That's really important.

We are primarily focused around politics, government, or national affairs. Stories too far afield of that just would not fit for us. People want an understanding of how Washington works.

Also, be prepared to offer people that can appear on camera. They can be local or we could do a Skype interview.

Do you pursue the stories as pitched?
Usually we use the pitch as a jumping off point. It's often best when people pitching us say, 'Here is an expert on something.' We don't want to ask people about things they don't know, but we don't want to have scripted exchanges either.

What's next?
We're redesigning the whole video experience on our website, which will be up and running this month. We're going to make it a much more video-centric destination. The home-page will look different.

Will people have to pay for content? 
All video on our site will be outside the paywall, so you can watch as much video as you like. In fact, we encourage it. 

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