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Project Spotlight: The Washington Post Reimagines News Media  

The Washington Post's new newsroom. Image © Garrett Rowland

With its click-clacking typewriters and fog of cigarette smoke, the newsroom depicted in All the President’s Men, the Oscar nominated film about The Washington Post’s reporting on the Watergate scandal, hardly seems like the early ancestor of the Post’s current workplace. Yet it was. And the evolution from that Post newsroom to the current version—complete with wafer-thin AV screens, HD video cameras, and an elegant modernity—hinged on what is known as the convergence.

The convergence brings together new digital tools and processes for content creation and distribution. It also enables content to flow between platforms. As a result, media companies find themselves in a bind: while today’s media landscape offers exciting new possibilities for the industry, it also puts new pressures on the media workplace and its inhabitants. In particular, the convergence has birthed interdisciplinary teams that must work in non-traditional, rapid-fire ways to create and distribute content.

The Post’s former home at 1150 15th Street, NW, (which it moved into in 1972, the same year it broke the Watergate story) was never designed for such workflows. The space was encumbered by high-paneled workstations, too many offices, and retro-fitted technology. Katharine Graham, the legendary former publisher of the Post, famously wrote in her autobiography, Personal History, that the old building was, “plain, dowdy, and full of compromises.” After making do for years, the Post began searching for a new home in 2013. But with the paper’s acquisition by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, later that year, the search parameters changed. The company reduced its real estate needs and focused on using space more efficiently as it pivoted from being a traditional newspaper company to being a leading-edge media and technology enterprise.

Soon after deciding to move, the Post hired Gensler. The two companies looked at dozens of buildings before landing on 1301 K Street, NW, also known as One Franklin Square. Its large floor plates and proximity to the White House and other Washington corridors of power made it a choice selection. The Post was able to secure floors four through nine, with levels seven and eight housing a split newsroom linked by an interconnecting stair.

However, One Franklin Square was not without its challenges. With two centralized cores and a forest of columns, the building forced the design team to think long and hard about how to implement one of the new workplace’s key features: an open plan. The Post’s goal was to shed most of its offices and devote 92 percent of the plan to open space. Such a move would allow the media company to better facilitate the quick collaboration its workers need. To make this plan a reality and overcome One Franklin Square’s structural constraints, the design team created neighborhoods, or small groupings of workstations. Within each neighborhood, the workstations are oriented in an alternating fashion, with some following the length of the floor and others turned against it. Not only does this grouping and turning negate the impedimentary nature of the columns, it also guards against the relentless rows of workstations that are sometimes a feature of open plans. Thanks to this open environment, reporters, engineers, social media specialists, videographers, and a host of other professionals can intermingle to create a truly converged newsroom.

The Washington Post's new newsroom. Image © Garrett Rowland

The beating heart of the new Post environment is the news hub. This centrally located, double-height space features a ribbon of monitors, some displaying real-time analytics on the performance of online stories, others showing cable news channels, news websites, and social media portals. The hub serves as a central hive of data and information that allows the Post to fine tune its content creation and distribution on the fly.

Just off the news hub sits the Ben Bradlee Story Conference Center. Named for the iconoclastic former executive editor of the Post, the Conference Center is where editors gather twice daily to discuss content and how the company’s news products will be assembled.

Increasingly, those news products include video, which is why the Post’s newsroom offers a number of areas designed for video production. For example, the seventh floor features a video studio, much like what you’d find in a traditional broadcast news environment. The video studio’s backdrop contains the news hub and several large AV screens that display content related to the story being broadcast. Three live-shot settings are also spread across the seventh and eighth floors. The settings are positioned to allow cameras to capture the full-length of the newsroom floor and the Post's brand, including the paper’s iconic nameplate, rendered as a three-dimensional graphic element.

Other brand elements in the space celebrate the paper’s rich history. Throughout the workplace, you’ll find quotes on the walls from Ben Bradlee, Don Graham (son of Katharine Graham and a former Post publisher in his own right), Jeff Bezos, and other Post luminaries. Tone-on-tone images of famous Post front pages line the wall next to the interconnecting stair. Collections of the paper’s historic headlines adorn conference room glass fronts. And signage from the old 15th street building greets guest in the fourth floor reception area.

While many of the branding elements hearken back to the Post’s past, the company’s new home is decidedly a forward-leaning media environment. Witness the 400-person multi-purpose room, located on the fourth floor. With its studio lighting, AV equipment, and sky-fold partitions, the flexible space is the ideal locale for the news organization’s many Washington Post Live events, which feature leading experts, emerging voices and newsmakers discussing the most pressing issues of the day.

Embracing a culture where journalists and engineers collaborate to add to the newsroom’s storytelling strength is just one reason Fast Company named the Post the world’s most innovative media organization. As it continues to redefine what a media company can be, the Post will rely on its new home to be its incubator of innovation and connector of people, technology, and ideas.

The Washington Post's new newsroom. Image © Garrett Rowland

Sumita Arora is a co-leader of Gensler’s global media practice. She leverages her diverse background to deliver next-generation media projects. Her multi-disciplinary expertise in campus planning, architecture, and workplace allows her to design integrated and adaptable spaces for today’s converged media environment. Contact her at sumita_arora@gensler.com.
John McKinney is a design director in Gensler's DC office where he specializes in designing for media and technology companies. Contact him at john_mckinney@gensler.com.

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