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Summary:

You can’t cut your way to success and you can’t spend your way there either. But if you want to change the trajectory of a faltering business, you have to invest in R&D, think differently — or hire people who can.

Businesspeople Walking, Leaving or Arriving - Executives walking

The ex-newspaper editor in my house looked up from his laptop and yelped, “The Washington Post is hiring the people from Digg?” Usually that wouldn’t be a blip for him but he instantly connected the move to the latest batch of people to lose their jobs in the WaPo newsroom through buyouts or layoffs. It was a visceral reaction and one that’s easy to understand.

But he knows, as do I, that changing news organizations these days isn’t always a zero sum game. Sometimes it’s a matter of different budgets covering different areas. Sometimes it’s a series of tradeoffs. If you want to invest in X, you have to cut back on Y. If you want to have reporters covering one area, sometimes you have to give up on another. Sometimes it’s about dumping the costs of having more experienced journalists to make the budget. (See the mention of ex-editor in the lead.) Sometimes one part of a company is cutting back while another area is expanding.

You have to invest

You can’t cut your way to success and you can’t spend your way there either — although we can list plenty of people in the news business who thought otherwise. But if you want to change the trajectory, you have to invest in research and development. You have to experiment. You have to be willing to think differently or to hire people who can.

That’s what Don Graham has been trying to do at the Washington Post Co. while keeping up the standards of journalism he followed as a reporter and publisher. That’s one reason he ended up as an investor in Facebook and a member of the board. That’s why he hired Vijay Ravindran as chief digital officer and started WaPo Labs, why the WaPoCo acquired iCurrent in 2010 and launched personalization service Trove last year, why it invested in social news site Ongo with the New York Times and Gannett, why Ravindran recently hired Rob “cmdrtaco” Malda to lead strategy.

So what is it doing with Digg?

No comment tonight from WaPo, other than a PR rep declining comment. Also no direct confirmation that it’s doing anything at all with Digg but according to some reporters I trust (even if they can’t spell acqhire), at least some of the tech/dev Digg team is headed to WaPo. Engineering, tech and dev talent is at a premium these days as is the ability to mesh it with news and information. WaPo doesn’t need Digg — but it can use a talented team of makers, if that’s what is happening.

Does the company need them more than its journalists? It needs them each differently.

Whither Digg?

The WaPo-Digg storyline emerged Monday as a rumor from The Next Web that the Washington Post was acquiring Digg, the once-hot social curator that has gone dim,  followed by reports that it was hiring some of the Digg team. (Anthony, I promise you it’s acqhire.) According to Peter Kafka, Digg won’t shut down just yet. I envision this as one of those creatures that keeps living even after you cut off the head although I can’t decide if it’s a chicken, a snake or a spider. Some might argue that happened years ago and what we’re seeing now is just the winding down.

Rob Malda, who founded slashdot, will be at paidContent 2012 with other leaders in tech, media and investing to explore how to make the most of today’s opportunities. Join us at The TimesCenter in New York, May 23.

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