Digital Publishing
2 mins read

How did the Washington Post go from sinking to winning? 4 key takeaways

On the third and final day of the GEN Summit 2018 held in Lisbon, Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and Greg Barber from the Washington Post outlined the Post’s twenty-year journey from legacy outlier to pioneering digital powerhouse.

Taking the main stage in a session moderated by Diário de Notícias’s Editor in Chief, Catarina Carvalho,  the start of the session was aptly accompanied by a short clip of a sinking ship. This alluded to the Post’s situation before Jeff Bezos bought the title in 2013, as it struggled to find income to replace the decline in print ads. The Post is now privately owned and won’t discuss specific figures, but revenue and profits are up, as subscribers grow and digital ad revenue increases. Its monthly site traffic has grown 56 percent, to 78.7 million over the past two years alone, according to ComScore.

At the GEN Summit 2018 session, the Post’s Garcia-Ruiz and Barber detailed four key takeaways that have been pivotal to how the Post transformed its fortunes.

1. Technology

Getting the technology right across the newsroom was priority #1 for the Post. Legacy systems were jettisoned and in its place a complete overhaul in the content management system took place – this resulted in Arc, the Post’s own CMS system. They went on to package this infrastructure and sell it on to 90 different newsrooms through Arc publishing. As Fast Company reported in late 2017, the Washington Post is a software company now. The key takeaway: ‘Pair journalistic excellence with technological excellence. This keeps both readers and advertisers happy.’

2. Nail your audience strategy

While the Post focused on local, Bezos introduced the idea of scale. Platforms like Facebook were viewed suspiciously but they also helped the Post become truly international so ‘we gave our content away to everyone for free’. The key takeaway: You have to be big and produce for everyone at scale: look at your audience, look at your coverage.

3. Get your metrics right

Standard Chartbeat metrics are fine, but they only go so far. To upgrade its data analytics, the Post developed its own metrics system, Spectrum. The system not only covers traditional metrics, such as unique visitors and page views, but also studies the way subscribers look at the site and how long they stay. This allowed them to achieve growth and depth. The key takeaway: Let metrics inform both the business and journalistic sides of your title with detailed, granular data.

4. Is your culture right?

According to Garcia-Ruiz, you have traditional media on one side and fully digital on the other. He stressed that it is of vital importance that you know where you want to be, so that your employees can follow. And you also need to hire accordingly to get the balance right. The key takeaway: Get your culture right, inform them and bring everyone along on the same journey.