wapo_quantcasttrendcomparison_20jun09.jpg

I was more than a little amused yesterday when Fred Hiatt invoked "viewership data" as an excuse for sacking Dan Froomkin, considering they’ve been doing their level best to destroy his readership by burying him in outer blogistan.

Rayne sent along some info on the Washington Post’s online traffic for the past five years, relative to that of the Huffington Post and the New York Times.  The graph above is a Quantcast comparison, which indicates that the Huffington Post is soaring while the Washington Post stagnates, and that the HuffPo is well on its way to seriously challenging the New York Times too.

Here are the Google trend lines, which indicate the same thing:

 wapo_googletrendcomparison_20jun09.jpg

The upper chart compares the names of the outlets, and the lower one the actual root URL of each outlet. Both charts, as she notes, are similar.

If Fred Hiatt really cares about traffic, he did not do himself any favors by tanking Froomkin, a respected marquee name in the world of online news who has value above and beyond temporal traffic spikes.   Individuals who cover specific issues like Froomkin will experience natural traffic fluctuations as those issues move in and out of the news cycle.  Anyone with even a remedial knowledge of online news coverage would know this.

But Fred Hiatt doesn’t have to care about traffic, because Kaplan education (which the Post owns) is paying the bills.  The 1Q operating loss for the newspaper group in 2008 was $53.8 million in 2008, compared to a $1.2 million operating income in 1Q 2008.  Newsweek, which the Post also owns, had an operating loss of $20.3 million. 

Kaplan had a 1Q 2009 operating income of $11.2 million.  But it wasn’t enough to offset the company’s publishing losses.  The WPO had a net loss of $19 million, compared to the $39 million profit they had in the same period last year.  That figure would be dramatically worse if Kaplan wasn’t part of the stable.

But Fred Hiatt’s value to the Post is not his superb stewardship of its online presence.  Fred Hiatt acts as a shield and takes the hits for Donald Graham, whose neocon views on foreign policy are directly reflected on the Post’s editorial page.   If the WPO’s shareholders have to suck up the losses while the Post serves as Don Graham’s vanity project and the HuffPo steals the online audience, well too bad for them.