Focusing to Survive

The Washington Post is adapting to business pressure by focusing, sometimes painfully, on what it does best.It says a lot when a fierce competitor tips the hat to another. I am not talking tennis with Federer vs. Nadal. I am thinking about gladiator-type business competitors where the last guy standing is alive and the rest aren’t. New York Times vs. Washington Post-type competitors.

On Sunday, the Times tipped its hat to the Post, acknowledging the iconic DC daily is making the necessary and painful changes to survive in the changing newspaper world. Cutting staff from 1,000 to 640. Closing bureaus in three major markets. Moving online aggressively. Using web metrics to assess success.

Similar efforts are being played out in Portland, Oregon. At The Oregonian, Scott Bernard Nelson, Business Editor, has been a change agent at the paper and closely follows changing business models for newspapers across the county. At KATU-TV, executive producer John Tierney is working to bridge the gaps between broadcast and online news.

In the modern news landscape, changing and remaining profitable is difficult.

Even so, I was surprised to read what Marcus Brauchli, The Washington Post's executive editor, said about change at the Post. “The Washington Post doesn’t need to cover everything,” he said. “But what it does cover, it will cover well. I think the staff of any newsroom today surely understands that we are in a fast-changing industry, facing constant competitive pressure, significant economic challenges and great opportunities to rethink how we cover things.”

Being all things to all people can dilute quality and impede success. Now companies find the formula of focus, speed and excellence to be an appropriate business model in a digital world. For a tradition-bound newspaper to do so is revealing.

Thanks to The New York Times for recognizing a competitor that is willing to manage change.