Washington Post’s Marty Baron: 9 Reasons for Optimism

The Washington Post

The Washington Post

By Lillian Williams

“Our profession and our business face many problems, many pressures. Optimism is not always easy to find, and sometimes it’s perilous to admit, especially when you’re in the middle of the turmoil, as I have been for 14 years as the editor in chief of a newspaper.”—Marty Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post.

That’s how Marty Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post, began his keynote speech at the 15th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ) earlier this month.

Optimism—confidence about the future– not easy to find in this digital era of journalism? That sentiment rings true, depending upon your vantage point.  But Baron looks at the question through a different prism.

Baron offered nine reasons why journalists (and others) should be optimistic, during the recent online journalism symposium in Austin, Texas.  (For an overview of the challenges—and the changes–in technology, content, jobs, revenue and consumer behavior in journalism, read the 2014  State of the Media Report .)

Keep this in mind: Baron’s news organization, The Washington Post, was sold suddenly by the Graham family to Amazon owner Jeff Bezos last year. “Truth is, I could never have anticipated what has happened at the Post — Don Graham selling us, Jeff Bezos buying,” said Baron.

Despite seismic changes in the industry, among Baron’s reasons for confidence that caught my eye are:

New owners are bringing needed new capital and a range of disparate ideas, rethinking business models.

“Our new owner at the Post, Jeff Bezos, is among them — investing $250 million in cash in the purchase of the Post and investing millions more into initiatives aimed at growth and digital transformation. Red Sox owner John Henry has acquired The Boston Globe and is obviously rethinking its business model. At the Orange County Register, Aaron Kushner is trying a wholly different approach, emphasizing print and betting that a substantial investment in reporting resources will give the industry the jolt it needs. Warren Buffett and his people are bringing their own ideas about local journalism to newspapers in smaller communities. Minnesota billionaire Glen Taylor has offered to buy the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. We’ll see what he has in mind.

You don’t have to believe in any one of these approaches to recognize that we’re in a period of tremendous experimentation with the business models of legacy media organizations. Not all of these will work. My wager is that something will, and then others will follow.”

New forms of storytelling have emerged, and they have proved particularly effective at connecting with readers.

“They can vary from listicles to data visualization that helps readers process a mass of information as never before. In many instances, the storytelling combines a variety of techniques.

New article formats have been developed that ease readers into supporting material, or supplemental material, when they wish to know more. Interactive graphics, videos, and other devices are presented contextually, integrated into stories in appropriate spots.

The reader experience is enhanced. Readers are more engaged. And in the end, readers will be more satisfied.”

Read Baron’s other seven reasons for optimism here.

It’s your turn.  What are your thoughts about Baron’s take on journalism in this digital era?  Share your thoughts below.

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