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Washington Post learns from Amazon

News, 21 July 2015

NEW YORK: The Washington Post is pursuing "excellence in engineering" to enhance its digital prospects - a strategy favoured by Jeff Bezos, the news title's owner and chief executive of Amazon, the ecommerce giant.

Steve Hills, the Post's president/general manager, discussed this subject at the INMA World Congress 2015 in New York.

He reported that Bezos had moved software engineers to the forefront of the publication's operations, whether that is creating more personalised experiences on its website or building a monetisable content management system.

"A key part of our experiment is to embed technologists," Hills said. (For more, including how the publication is building its audience, read Warc's exclusive report: The Washington Post explores the Amazon trail.)

"We have embedded engineers," he continued. "And, very importantly, engineers are treated as first-class citizens."

In short, that means these digital experts are now working directly with journalists and advertising teams to improve the Post's offerings across the board.

"The new world is engineers and editors - or engineers and ad-sales executives - sitting together and co-developing products," said Hills. "And the ideas are as likely to come from the engineers as they are from the editors."

Just as Amazon's under-the-hood capabilities have been essential in building superior ecommerce experiences, so the Post is combining traditional journalistic excellence with deeper digital savvy.

"It means [we have] to think like a digital-product company, because our big competition: they are digital-product companies," said Hills.

"But, uniquely and why we think we have the potential for success - and what, I think, is a key reason why Jeff Bezos bought us - is [that] the Washington Post can, actually, possibly be truly world class on both axes."

With online companies of various forms pressing into the news and entertainment space, such ideas are particularly timely for the venerable newspaper.

"There are great technology companies who are learning and investing. We can downplay them now and say, 'They don't care about content', but they'll get there," said Hills.

"And there are great journalism companies trying to have a race to become great technology companies. We believe we can be the best of both."

Data sourced from Warc