Get ready to break out the Citizen Kane references – and, by extension, the Mr Burns references – because Jeff Bezos, benevolent (?) overlord of the Amazon empire, apparently thinks it would be fun to run a newspaper, having just bought the Washington Post. The venerable D.C. institution has been under the control of the Graham family since 1946, and in the 13 years before that was owned by Philip Graham’s father-in-law, Eugene Meyer, who bought it at a bankruptcy auction. The paper’s present circumstances haven’t become quite so dire as those, but the $250 million Bezos has paid for it will no doubt be appreciated nonetheless.
In a letter to the paper’s employees subsequently published on the Post’s website, Bezos assures his new staff that although the paper is leaving 80 years of stewardship under one family, an era which has shaped its public image, its values and its reputation, ‘The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.’ He seems keen to remain largely hands-off on the editorial front, ‘happily living in “the other Washington” where I have a day job that I love’ and vowing to leave the day to day business of running a paper in the hands of the current staff, but does admit there will need to be some change forthcoming:
That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.
That folksy tone may seem at odds with Amazon’s oft-ruthless business practices, but then again, Amazon didn’t get where it was by being totally open about its bastardry. If Bezos can successfully port over Amazon’s way of doing things, the Post has every shot at being the last paper standing as its fellow behemoths collapse around it. And even if he can’t stem the decline of the industry, and the paper loses a million dollars this year, and the year after that, and the year after that, at the rate of a million dollars a year, he’ll be forced to close it in… 25,000 years. He’s really, really rich, you guys.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.