Kyle Pope in Columbia Journalism Review:
IS IT AN UNDERHANDED COMPLIMENT to be called the most innovative company in the newspaper business?
The Washington Post will happily take it. In the three years since Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the Post for $250 million—now seen as a steal for one of the great brands in publishing—the Post has reinvented itself with digital speed. Its Web traffic has doubled since Bezos arrived, and it far outstrips The New York Times (and even BuzzFeed) in the number of online posts its reporters file every day. So successful has the Post become in the digital game that it now licenses its content management system to other news outlets, a business that could generate $100 million a year. It is a moment to savor for a once-iconic family business that has spent much of the last decade in retreat. When Bezos bought the Post in 2013, its news franchise had been decimated by Politico (which will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary); it had lost its editor; and its digital business had four years earlier joined the mothership from an office in Arlington.*
Today, the office has the feel of a tech startup well-blessed by the VC gods. Video screens scrolling Web analytics hang above the newsroom. Reporters roam the place carrying laptops. The Post’s turnaround, in a terrible period for newspapers, has made Martin Baron, its editor, a journalism rock star (Pulitzer Prize, dominating coverage of the 2016 election, portrayal by Liev Schreiber in an Oscar-winning movie). But it has also raised the profile of the paper’s tech team, who have become stars in their own right on the digital-media conference circuit. If a paper like the Post can right itself digitally, perhaps there’s hope for everyone else. There most certainly could be, if everyone else were owned by a billionaire who sees today’s media game as analogous to the internet circa 1999, essentially a land grab open to whomever can spend the most money and move the fastest to grab the biggest market share. That is the story of the rise of Amazon.com, and Bezos is applying many of those same lessons to the Post. (Along with an obsession with Web traffic and engagement metrics, which are much more important internally than whether the paper makes any money.)