For the first time the US Capital’s paper of record will include its vice president of product on the masthead, reflecting the essential role that engineers play in building a successful publisher and the Post’s ability to attract them.

According to Axios, Kat Downs Mulder, a veteran of the Washington Post, who began as a news designer before ascending to the product team and now runs it, will feature on the news organisation’s list of key people, in a move it describes as setting an “important precedent among our peers in the industry.” On a list of 24 senior leaders in the organisation, Downs Mulder becomes the tenth woman to feature.  

In a similar way to the rise of graphics in media, product – the wider experience of the news organisation’s output – has become indispensable to success. For the Post, this success has come from its ability to attract top talent. “There is no better place to innovate and experiment on what the future of news looks like”, Downs Mulder says in a statement.

Speaking to Axios, CEO and Publisher Fred Ryan noted the pace of change at the organisation. “In 2011, there were four engineers in the Washington Post newsroom. Today there are over 300.” This is compared to over 700 journalists: an extraordinary proportion for a news organisation.

Part of this is the Bezos effect, a result of the Amazon founder buying the paper in 2013 for $250 million of his own money. Ryan says this has accelerated recruitment on the tech end of the equation. “Access and ability to recruit and retain engineers has been an amazing byproduct of Jeff’s ownership,” he says, adding that they are “in regular conversation with Jeff about ways to constantly improve our UX, and how we test and experiment with new products.”

It’s working. A focus on app experience has led to the Post’s mobile products drawing three times the content consumption from users than its website users. Meanwhile, clever new features including a ‘discover’ tab or story carousels have driven 10% year-on-year growth in page views.

It is also thinking about new ways to attract and retain subscribers with ideas like personalised newsletters, bolstered by its test-and-learn pedigree to find the optimum frequency.

It is also testing dynamic paywalls that consider what triggered the user to hit the paywall. “We view the Washington Post as a subscription product and any non-subscriber access is viewed as sampling in hopes that the reader becomes a subscriber,” Ryan says.

Like some of the most successful subscription stories, the Post is focused on understanding engagement among subscribers, and is working on a new metric for page views with weighted by their popularity among subscribers (or potential subscribers some way along the purchase journey).

Sourced from Axios, the Washington Post