Don Graham, Facebook and the social news

Don Graham, Washington PostIt’s not every day you get to meet one of the members of the first family of U.S. media. When you do, you tend to expect some sort of pronouncement. Don Graham, scion of the Graham family that owns the Washington Post (s wpo) and a handful of other businesses, didn’t disappoint.

For starters, Graham, who is on the board of Facebook, noted that he reads our little publication. Then he went on to talk about The Washington Post in the Facebook Era and how he believes big media companies need to evolve. As you might have heard, Washington Post launched a social news reader which features content from a whole slew of sources (not GigaOM, which is kinda uncool, but whatever) such as Sugar and SBNation in addition to content from the Post and some news wires such as the Associated Press.

You may have seen the photos and how un-web like it is. When I asked Graham about the diffusion of the Post brand in the new social reader, he pointed out that it’s by design. His argument — since the Post (and media companies) need to go where the readers are — is that the definition of the information container is going to be different from the traditional brand-centric media packages we are used to: you know, newspapers and magazines.

Graham’s view is that media companies like his need to evolve and move the news to where the readers are. The company’s thinking is outlined in this article on Fast Company:

First, the stories you see in the Reader are not chosen by editors. Instead, they’re chosen by social signals, including which articles you and your friends read as well as information from your Facebook profile and the things you’ve Liked. Those differences reflect two major shifts away from conventional news industry thinking, Washington Post Company Chief Digital Officer Vijay Ravindran tells Fast Company. While the industry has long prided itself on the acumen of its editors, the Post Company now believes that social will play an increasingly large role in how readers find news they might be interested in. “I know what readers my age want,” says the 66-year-old Graham. “But the great mystery is what younger readers want.”

Though it isn’t clear what the revenue model is for this brave new social world, Graham believes they would be foolish not to try to figure out where news is headed. He joked that printing presses that cost more than $200 million are a much bigger overhead than having a team of technologists trying to figure out the future.

Graham said there was one thing he was certain about: No matter how the news is distributed and consumed, the need for news will always be there. The job of the reporter doesn’t change, he said. What changes is how information is gathered and distributed, and that’s a big opportunity for large media companies like his.

He predicted there will be a handful of big companies that will have the scale to have writing staffs and resources to keep producing news as we’ve known it. I don’t necessarily disagree with him. Much as there are a handful of Hollywood studios who continue to produce most of the movies, we could see the news business consolidate further behind half a dozen brands like The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal (s nws) and The New York Times. (s nyt) And then there will be freewheeling indies like us who will continue to match their content with their audience.