Commentary

Has 'Washington Post' Reached A Virtuous Cycle Of Growth?

After a year of relentless job cuts at publishers faced with plunging revenue during the pandemic, it's gratifying to see a newspaper plan for record hiring activity in 2021.
The Washington Post, the storied newspaper owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will hire more than 150 people in its newsroom next year. The additions will boost its head count to a record high of more than 1,000, according to an internal memo from Fred Ryan, publisher-CEO of the newspaper, cited by several news sources.
His announcement of the hiring plan may indicate  the newspaper is in a virtuous cycle of growing subscription revenue that supports spending on reporting and original content. Because the company is privately held, it's hard to tell how profitable it is, and whether its revenue is growing.
If other newspapers are any indication, WaPo likely has seen steep declines in print advertising, partly offset by digital ad growth. Ryan said the newspaper has more than 3 million subscribers, helping to confirm a report by Axios that said paid digital circulation had more than tripled since 2016.
The newspaper's hiring plans are reminiscent of a growth strategy that Bezos discussed at the Future of Newspapers conference in mid-2017. The newspaper had become profitable in 2016, three years after he had bought it for $250 million.
“We’ve grown our way into profitability instead of shrinking our way into profitability,” he said, describing how the newspaper had reversed years of job cuts by adding reporters and expanding its technology team. "You can’t shrink your way into relevance."
He also said the newspaper had tightened its paywall to positive effect. Instead of scaring away readers, subscriptions grew.
Ryan's memo about next year's hiring plans follow recent announcements to expand its editorial teams. As reported by Publishers Daily, the newspaper this month began forming a six-person experimental news team to explore the use of emerging technologies, and hired an editor to lead a new department dedicated to data journalism next year.

As for advertising sales, the newspaper last month introduced a contextual ad targeting product called Project Signal aimed at helping marketers focus their media spending in places that are most effective. The tool is powered by first-party data from its contextual targeting platform Zeus Insights.
By providing readers with a broader range of content and helping advertisers reach those audiences, the newspaper's virtuous cycle of growth shows no sign of ending soon.

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