Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post: What it all means
Many were skeptical when it was announced that Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com, had purchased The Washington Post from long-time owner Donald Graham for a mere $250 million. In August, when the news first broke, questions outnumbered answers. What would he change? Why sell to somebody with no newspaper experience?
When the sale was finalized on Oct. 2, questions remained. But throughout the past two months, some clarity has trickled in on how Bezos plans to run the money-losing paper.
In a memo to his new employees, Bezos said the core values of the paper will remain the same. The news organization’s dedication to cover the topics people in the Washington D.C. area care most about—specifically government—will not change. Bezos does hint in the memo, however, that the Post will be more experimental with its news coverage, and how that coverage is presented, in the future.
“There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy,” he wrote. “We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.”
He acknowledges the tumultuous times the journalism industry has experienced for the past 15 years. He can’t predict the future for print journalism. He does make one heck of a case that he’s dedicated to finding a method that works, though. And according to this USA Today article, his new employees are all in on the move.
Even so, many remain skeptical. This is, after all, an industry that requires a more-than-average amount of skepticism.
In an appearance on “The B.S. Report” with Bill Simmons, long-time writer for The New Yorker and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell shares his skepticism regarding the sale of the Post to Bezos. In my first sentence, I say “a mere $250 million” when referring to the amount Bezos paid for the Post because that’s all it is—to him.
As Gladwell points out, $250 million only amounts to about 1 percent of Bezos’s net worth.
“It’s a rounding error,” Gladwell says in the podcast. “We may be overstating how big of a deal this is for (Bezos). Maybe he just thinks ‘why not? play with it for a couple years, see if it’s interesting and maybe move on.’ His empire is now so vast that this is just like…this is going out for a cup of coffee. He didn’t make some massive commitment.”
Bezos purchased the Post under Nash Holdings LLC, a private investment company that was created specifically for the acquisition of the media organization. Nash Holdings is not connected to Amazon.com, which some, Gladwell being one, see negatively. It gives the impression that this is just a side thing for Bezos.
“If he bought it for his company, I would have thought ‘Oh, he has a kind of grander scheme for integrating the Post into this formidable organization that he’s built,’” Gladwell says. “If he’s buying it for himself, it doesn’t seem like that’s at the top on his list.”
Bezos has said he will still devote almost all of his attention to his day job at Amazon.com, which is based 2,760 miles away in Seattle. He said he will visit the Post periodically, but Publisher Katharine Weymouth and executive editor Martin Baron will be the higher-ups on site for a majority of the time.
So to answer the 2-month-old questions, I don’t think much will change. The Post may have a little bit more flexibility with the increased monetary backing that Bezos certainly provides, but the day-to-day operations are still filtering through the same core group of people. Ultimately I’m with Gladwell on this one: I don’t think Bezos will end up being somebody who introduces a game-changing solution to the problems facing the journalism industry.
It’s possible, though, that he’ll prove Gladwell and I wrong and leave as big of a footprint on journalism as he has on the online retail industry.
_ Alex Lantz