Use technology, but don't be a slave to it. One thing the Post has done is create a publishing platform called Arc, which it is selling to other papers including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. It also uses data to do things like test headlines and understand how engaged readers are with particular stories.
But he warned there has to be a balance: "I would never let anybody or ask anybody to be slavish to data, but I'd also be super skeptical of people who aren't curious about the data." He also noted that for data to really be useful, it has to be "real time," not delivered a day later.
Advertising alone will not support investigative journalism. Bezos thinks the current online ad landscape is incompatible with the kind of journalism the Post wants to do. He had particularly harsh words for programmatic advertising, in which publishers turn to an array of competing advertising networks to sell ads against specific audience segments.
"If you really wanted to build a business you could support with advertising alone, especially programmatic advertising, you'd have to be incredibly lean, you'd have to eliminate a lot of layers of editing, you would not do much original material, you would cleverly rewrite other people's material, you would emphasize clever writing as opposed to original sourcing," he said. "If you want to do investigative reporting and other kinds of very expensive reporting, you have to have a model where people will pay you for it."
Once the Post started asking people to pay, they happily did, Bezos said. And they continue to do so.
"This industry spent 20 years teaching everyone in the world that news should be free. The truth is, readers are smarter than that. They know high-quality journalism is expensive to produce, and they are willing to pay for it, but you have to ask them. We've tightened our paywall, and every time we've tightened our paywall, subscriptions go up."
"Democracy dies in darkness." Before introducing its infamous tagline in the wake of President Donald Trump's election, the Post worked on it for more than a year trying to make it sound a little less ... dark. But it couldn't figure out a way.
"We wanted a positive version of 'democracy dies in darkness,' and literally we had some of the smartest writers in the world try to invert 'democracy dies in darkness' to get a positive version of it, and we couldn't do it, so we said to hell with it."
His final advice: "When you're writing, be riveting, be right and ask people to pay. They will pay."