Andrew Sullivan, whom I esteem, wrote yesterday: "Congrats to the WaPo for the kind of work that will actually save newspapers." That gets it exactly backwards. I'd prefer to congratulate the Washington Post for the kind of work that makes newspapers worth saving. But if the Post did this kind of thing more often, it would go bankrupt.
The truth is that in-depth investigative reporting has always been unprofitable. The Post team that produced the series over the course of the last two years included "investigative reporters, cartography experts, database reporters, video journalists, researchers, interactive graphic designers, digital designers, graphic designers, and graphics editors." But the paper won't be able to sell extra advertising to offset the costs. Indeed, some of its largest advertisers are likely to be displeased by the coverage. It won't sell more subscriptions - not the least because the most compelling content in the series is freely available online.
Newspapers, during their fat years, survived by bundling. There were the profitable sections - the classifieds, the auto pages, the lifestyle coverage - cheap to produce, and literally made for advertisers. They subsidized the costs of the news and analysis, which helped attract readers for the paper to monetize. And as newspapers merged and shut-down, the survivors took advantage of their dominant position by abandoning their lively partisanship and aiming to attract as broad a swath of readers as possible. That effort produced the journalistic practices that tend to drive the blogosphere nuts—the pose of objectivity, the comfort with authority, the reluctance to challenge convention.