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Back from the brink

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 28, 2016 07:30 am

Now we have the hat trick of improbable stories that have made 2016 one of the most remarkable years ever. First, the Cubs won the World Series. Then, Donald Trump was elected president. Now, a newspaper is hiring journalists instead of letting them go.At a time when staff reductions are the norm, The Washington Post, said to be "profitable and growing" will add more than 60 jobs — or 8 percent. That is just amazing.  The Post newsroom will number more than 750, third among the national newspaper-based press and moving it closer to The New York Times, which has about 1,307 journalists. USA Today’s newsroom stands at about 450, while The Wall Stree HJournal Journal employs 1,500. 

Owner Jeff Bezos and Publisher Fred Ryan achieved this turnaround by combining good old-fashioned journalism with new technology and delivery methods:

In addition, the Post believes, as Ryan noted, that its investigative and deeper enterprise stories are good for the brand and the business. While the Post can’t yet draw a direct line between the investigative work and subscriber conversion, for instance, the link may be even more fundamental.

"Investigative reporting is central to our DNA," says Ryan. "Readers expect it."

In short, Ryan and Bezos believe that old-fashioned journalism — increasingly delivered via a fleet of digital means, from smartphone apps to the Kindle to Facebook Instant Articles — sells.

The Post has seen a 75 percent increase in new subscribers since the first of the year and says it has doubled digital subscription revenue over the year. Many of those new subscribers prove out Bezos’ theory that a mass market of low-price (generally around $36 a year for the national edition, after up to six months of "free trial") subscription sales will form the leading revenue source for the Post in the years ahead.

[. . .]

Bezos’ investments are twinned, literally joined at the publishing hip. Now, the Post thinks "product" almost as much as news. In fact, almost 80 technologists now sit right in the new Post newsroom, in addition to those soon-more-than-700 journalists. This is the face of a modern newsroom, in which software development engineers, digital designers, product managers, mobile developers and video engineering produce content in real time.

A "mass market of low price." Wow. A good product at a fair price. What a concept Bezos has stumbled onto.

When Bezos' strategy became clear at the beginning of this year, I thought then that if anybody could turn a newspaper — or the whole industry — around, it would be him. He has a knack for knowing what people want and how to give it to them and, most important, he's not afraid to play the long game. He's investing a lot of money in a shaky business and, in the words of one observer, giving the Post some runway. The might take off, they might crash and burn, but they have the room to maneuver, to experiment, to be bold. Most of the people in this business can't see beyond the short term.

Journalism is never going away. People will always want to know things, and there will always be people trying to find ways to make money from telling them those things. "Newspapers" won't die, either, though the paper part will become less and less important until it's not around any longer. The business will evolve, in some ways we can glimpse now and in some ways we can't.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NEWS

A lot of observers have speculated that, given Donald Trump's lack of political experience and Mike Pence's wealth of it, Pence would be one of the most powerful vice opresidents ever. But here is one observer who thinks he won't have that much influence and, furthermore, isn't approaching the job like he wants it,

We've run Thomas Sowell's columns for something like 20 years. Now, alas, he's retiring; his economic insights are profound, his writing clear and direct. Here are some thoughts from Ann Althouse. And here is a site showing off Sowell's photographs. He's quite good at that, too.

Trump's inaugeral apparently isn't going to be a big star-studded affair. Whether that's by design ("This isn't Woodstock," one of his advisers says) or because the stars don't want to have anything to do with hiim, it's certainly a good thing. I'm so unplugged from popular culture that I probably wouldn't even recognize most of them.

Post-Christmas fights broke out at malls all across the country. Just makes me feel even better about doing almost all of my shopping online these days. If you're looking for a way to lure me back in, guys, this ain't it.

99 reaons 2016 was a good year. And they don't even have Trump winning the presidential election as one of them.

Great moments in higher education: George Washington University removes U.S. history as a required course — for history majors.

A new study says men need to get drunk twice a week with friends to stay healthy. Yeah, right. Good luck on selling that one to your significant others, guys.

Calls are growing to stop any U.S. funding of the United Nations after the disgraceful vote on Israel. What a spiteful, cowardly move President Obama made to direct our abstention instead of a veto. And, no, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if it turns out the administration orchestrated the whole thing. Maybe it's time we get out of the UN altogether, and kick them out of the country while we're at it.

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