Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has purchased the Washington Post for $250 million. This news caught most people off guard, but probably should not have, as declining revenue and a changing media environment necessitated the sale. In the wake of the news, a few former Post employees, most obviously at Politico whose front page has been hyperventilating about the sale since yesterday evening, are lamenting the “end of a great era.”
Lois Romano actually penned a column with a variation of that very name. She pours out a considerable amount of virtual ink, fondly remembering the Post’s glory days and lamenting how everything is different now:
That Post was gone a decade ago, victimized by the same maladies affecting the entire industry — diminishing circulation, an advertising base usurped by Craig’s List and a generation who views newspapers as clutter. Still, the announcement on Monday that this proud institution would be sold to an Internet entrepreneur by Graham, today the CEO, and his niece, publisher Katharine Weymouth, rocked the staff and stunned a city that had long held it in awe.
John F. Harris asks: What is Jeff Bezos thinking? He casts doubt on whether Bezos has a plan to carry the Post forward:
Does Bezos—one of the great business innovators of the digital era from his perch at Amazon—have some particular strategic insight that could revive the Post as a robustly profitable enterprise, or take its brand in some exciting new direction? If so, he’s not showing much leg at the outset. His letter to Post employees made an obvious observation about how “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.” He also offered some bland and blurry words that suggested he will be winging it to the same degree as the current owners: “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.”
Harris also provides plenty of sentimental remembrances of what the Post was:
It has been a good long while—a full generation ago—since the Washington Post was Ben Bradlee’s newspaper, and since the Post name stood for unchallenged editorial and financial power in Washington. No news organization had more influence in setting the agenda in the nation’s capital. No daily newspaper was more lucrative, or had greater reach into the daily life of one the nation’s largest and most affluent metropolises.
But you know what? Too bad. This is business. The free market doesn’t have sentimental favorites (though the government does from time to time). Bemoaning a newspaper era that has long since disappeared is exactly the type of thinking that slows innovation and adaptation amongst print media outlets.
Jeff Bezos has shown himself to have adapted well to wholesale in the digital age, and it stands to reason that he would be well-suited to innovating at a storied newspaper. But the aggrieved journos might want to reconsider the assumption that drastic changes are coming. Bezos has indicated that editorial will remain largely the same and that a new owner does not necessarily mean a completely different approach to the news. What it does mean is a new and needed approach on the business side.
What I find even more annoying is old-time journalists using the sale of a newspaper as an excuse to trot out emotional drivel about glory long since passed. Journalists never miss an opportunity to make much of themselves.
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