Katharine Graham Weymouth is the fourth-generation publisher of The Washington Post. Interviewed on stage by Don Baer, Worldwide Chair and CEO, Burson-Marsteller, their conversation started out by going behind the scenes of The Post’s acquisition by Jeff Bezos last year.In the 1930’s Weymouth’s grandfather bought The Post in a bankruptcy sale. Generations later, the family wanted to find someone who could keep the public’s trust. Said Weymouth, “We couldn’t have found a better owner.”

After the acquisition was completed, an employee asked Bezos: Why did you buy The Post? He responded there were three “gates” he had to go through before making the decision:

  • Does what you do matter?
  • Am I optimistic about the industry, and specifically, The Washington Post?
  • Can I bring something to the table?

Bezos is famously focused on consumers and Weymouth acknowledged that it’s essential for The Post to understand how consumers want to get their news.

On the 24/7 news cycle, which allows for no down time or vacations, Weymouth said: “For us it’s been a huge gift, although journalists may not agree – they used to come in at 10 or 11am and file story by 8pm for the print issue the next day.”

As we all know, today’s audience is “on” all the time and journalistically, story-telling happens through video, Twitter and traditional, long form copy. “We no longer say we are platform agnostic, but we are platform specific. Our content is different on mobile vs. the print paper on Sunday.”

There’s a lot of big data available about what’s popular and what’s not, and Weymouth discussed the value of knowing exactly how many people read an entire story and how long they spend on the site. The big question is “How do we make people read and care? For us, trust is everything, people come to The Post for trusted stories.”

Weymouth believes that while readers don’t care who breaks news first, they do care who gets the facts wrong. And on the topic of the popularity of cat videos over serious journalism, Weymouth said, “I tell the newsroom: ‘people like a bit of sugar with their medicine.’ We have to have some entertaining stories.”

poll results for Spring Seminar 2014