The Washington Post has sparked a digital revolution, aiming for the intersection of engineering and journalism. Since acquiring the Post in 2013, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has played a large part in pushing the organization toward digital innovation.
Managing Editor for Digital Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and Director of Product Joey Marburger have been essential to cultivating the growth of the organization and developing innovative solutions during the past three years. In the first of four keynote sessions at SNDCLT, presented as a fireside chat, Garcia-Ruiz and Marburger touched on the past, the present, and how to move forward a leading newsroom.
Here are three takeaways from the session for leading a digital revolution:
1. Shift the strategy
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Bezos took the organization in a new direction. Like many newsrooms, the Post had experienced cutbacks and had focused more resources on local news for the D.C. area. Bezos shifted the strategy to re-expand the scale of coverage to help digital succeed. Garcia-Ruiz said the Post needed to create a product that would not only grab readers for a moment, but give them a sense that the product is worthwhile. Once the design team brainstormed ways to re-invent coverage — targeting social and mobile audiences — their digital products, according to Garcia-Ruiz, held on to readers and increased subscriptions.
2. Be at the front of technology
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Garcia-Ruiz stressed that innovation has to be digital. “The notion that you can tell great stories without being at the front of technology is foreign to us,” he said. The Post’s Product team is vital to developing technology, but remains focused on storytelling. “Journalism is our number one product,” Marburger said. “We always start from there.”
The Product team works at the intersection of news, engineering and business. Designers come in with digital skill sets and aim to craft the best presentation across all platforms. Marburger said that innovation has led to the team designing for audio — something with few of the visual design elements that journalists are more accustomed to using. Designing behind the scenes for experience and beyond the visible has become a focus moving forward.
3. Never fear the possibility of failure
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Marburger stressed the importance of having creative freedom in order to innovate. As Product director, he said, “A lot of my job is convincing editors to give us time for crazy experiments.” Garcia-Ruiz added that a “punitive culture” would slow down the process. “You have to empower people,” he said. With design in a state of constant change, staying at the forefront can be a challenge. At the Post, Emerging News Products has taken the lead. In the end, Garcia-Ruiz said that “Watching their creative process has taught us so much.”