The deal represents a sudden and stunning turn of events for The Post, Washington’s leading newspaper for decades and a powerful force in shaping the nation’s politics and policy. Few people were aware that a sale was in the works for the paper, whose reporters have broken such stories as the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandals and disclosures about the National Security Administration’s surveillance program in May.
For much of the past decade, however, the paper has been unable to escape the financial turmoil that has engulfed newspapers and other “legacy” media organizations. The rise of the Internet and the epochal change from print to digital technology have created a massive wave of competition for traditional news companies, scattering readers and advertisers across a radically altered news and information landscape and triggering mergers, bankruptcies and consolidation among the owners of print and broadcasting properties.
I've already seen a lot of confusion and trepidation about this. For every success of Amazon, there's been a failure like Pets.com. Amazon.com is incredibly secretive. That maybe doesn't work so well for a newspaper. Plus he killed the bookstore.
But Bezos isn't necessarily going to run the Post like Amazon. And really, how much worse could he do at running newspapers than Gannett, currently dealing its own publications an agonizing slow death by a thousand paper cuts?
I'm intrigued to see how this goes. One thing Bezos has done successfully is drive down the cost of print media in order to sell it widely — and when the technology caught up with his vision, on his proprietary machine. If Bezos envisions the Post as a continued force in national news — a smarter USA Today — he has the distribution channel to pull it off.
But I'm also interested to think about how Bezos might work a national newspaper in the Internet era. At a time when local papers are cutting way, way back and a bunch of good journalists are barely scraping by — something SouthComm staffers know only too well — Bezos has an interesting opportunity. He could go head-to-head with the big chains without having what looks like a chain at all. He could just hire local reporters all over the country and then offer his subscribers both a national Washington Post and a local, customized online Post. After all, local talent might think a job is better than no job and a man with hiring money is in a better position than a media chain laying people off.
One of the reasons Amazon worked is that it brought a bookstore into every computer user's home — even if that computer user were in the middle of nowhere. And that bookstore could be whatever you needed. The engineer found as rich a selection as the romance novel fan.
Imagine that in a newspaper. I think it'd be really cool to get national stories, local stories, stories from where my parents and siblings live, stories from towns that intrigue me, plus recommendations based on what other readers who read that story were also reading.
In an era of shrinking media outlets, Bezos could make his mark by growing a paper into a bloated Amazonian monster. I'd be excited to see it.