by Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) The Washington Post recently hit 1m subscribers. This is remarkable for a lot of reasons but that it’s a few years after Jeff Bezos bought it (and only four years into putting up the paywall) means it’s definitely worth understanding further. Has he cracked the future media model?

Key insights

Jed Hartman is the chief revenue officer at the Post and he recently let slip some key insights they are working off.

The first is that they don’t fear the Facebook and Google duopoly. A lot of advertising revenue might be going their way but, from a digital audience perspective, their existence highlights that the choice has become stark: do I get my news from a trusted or an untrusted source? This has been the benefit of the sudden fake-news consciousness which drove the narrative in 2017. Looking back just a year, how naïve we all seemed.

The second insight is that millennials actually will pay for something they trust and value. This runs counter to the “they want everything for free” viewpoint, but you just need to look at the success of platforms such as Netflix and Spotify which they will happily pay for. This now extends into the news they consume. Google and Facebook might deliver entertaining and informative content but the source of that content has now been irretrievably questioned. Where will they get the real news?

They are a smart generation, and they will go and look for it and, if need be, pay for it.

Linked to this is the separation of curating vs creating. The trend of curating dumbed-down news, which has led to the death of many a news room, is being replaced with moving back to actually creating original and new content. In brand speak, it comes down to creating something the audience actually wants, as opposed to delivering them the lowest common denominator.

Invested in journalists and technology

The Post has invested in journalists and technology to deliver a superior experience and it’s working. As Hartman comments, “Audiences know when they are coming to the Washington Post, they are getting deeply-reported, deeply fact-checked information they can trust.”

Another remarkable fact is they have doubled their digital ad sales in three years.

A lot of effort has gone into the advertising user experience, instead of focusing on the advertiser and taking whatever they supply. This might have pushed some advertising away but we can all agree that a lot of advertising across the net is bland and mostly irrelevant. If it detracts from your platform, then why ruin your consumer experience? It’s a risky play but it has clearly worked.

The move to more video consumption hasn’t been ignored and this where the investment in technology has really paid off. The packaging and distribution of bite-sized but impactful video content has been a key growth driver.

Lessons for local news publishers

There are lot of lessons here for local news publishers. As with most things in life, quality always trumps quantity.

The future might mean less publishers but those that survive will be the ones that invest in their journalists and the technology that will be required to actually make the consumer experience enjoyable.

Go out and build that wall!


Martin MacGregorMartin MacGregor (@MartMacG) is managing director of Connect, an M&C Saatchi Company, with offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Martin has spent 18 years in the industry, and has previously worked at Ogilvy and was MD of MEC Nota Bene in Cape Town. He contributes the monthly “Media Redefined” column, in which he challenges norms in the media space, to

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