Coffee table club

Staying behind the times is okay if you’re a “fast follower.”

That’s how Washingtonian editor-in-chief Garrett Graff described the magazine’s online strategy.

Graff was here in 2005 when the magazine booted up the first iteration of its website with an administrator he remembers (I hope) jokingly as “a half-time former accounting intern we sent to an HTML class.”

Cringe.

The vision Graff shared never explicitly detailed a position as an online leader, but he indicated that the quality and layout of web material will more closely match that of the print magazine.

Thus far, he says, the print magazine has been lavished with the attention and funding of a Division I varsity football program. Online? Closer to a JV squad at the DIII level.

For the print version, the challenge is say something with the magazine in a glance.

Magazines are clubs for their audiences, Graff says, and publications serve as personality keys to their readers.

Imagine entering a home to find the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired on the coffee table. It gives you a roundabout idea of this person.

Picture an end table that holds only a copy of the Washington Post.

“I know absolutely nothing about you,” Graff says, “except that you probably speak English.”

Graff’s vision for the magazine is to convey power and intelligence, two qualities he sees as exemplary of the nation’s capital.

An obvious change would be the cover, but service-oriented covers sell on newsstands. Pulling away from that format is a risky financial move. But so is stagnation.

Experimenting with the cover is among a several changes that could shift readers’ idea of the Washingtonian from a list-heavy service glossy to a powerful, intelligent balance of service and deep-reported features that keep subscribers and grocery line buyers enthralled.

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