Ok, explain this: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com and the creator of the digital reading device, the Kindle, bought the Washington Post yesterday. What? The man with the reputation for “disrupting the status quo” has bought one of the bastions of “old media”? Why would a billionaire (he’s the 19th richest person in the world with a net worth of $26 billion) want to mess with turning around a struggling newspaper?
Image via Esquire
In a brief statement issued, Bezos said, “The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers…” He went on to say, ” 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…”
The Washington Post has a storied history. It is the most important paper in what is arguably the most powerful city in the most powerful country. It has a unique relationship with and, therefore important insights into, the Federal Government and its powerful politicians. While other newspapers such as the New York Times and The Washington Post have large news bureaus in our capital, the Post is headquartered there. It is Washington, DC’s hometown paper.
Image via The Washington Post
The Washington Post is also known for its first class reporting and writing. It is famous for exposing the Watergate scandal which led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Along the way, its reporters have been awarded numerous Pulitzer Prizes. With over 700 journalists, the Post has a huge commitment to producing original content. It’s well respected editorial staff has a commitment to making sure that that original content is high quality.
It is the Washington Post’s commitment to quality news that probably convinced Bezos to buy it. Bezos wants to leverage this quality by getting it more widely distributed. Certainly all avenues are open. Lucky for the Post, Bezos is taking the long road. With his deep pockets he can fund a culture of innovation and experimentation. So if you are a reporter for the Post, you are probably breathing easier. No more cutting to the bone. Instead, what Bezos will do is focus on expanding the number of distribution channels. Print will remain part of it, but getting an effective and appealing digital strategy in place is equally important. Don’t be surprised if there is a Post Kindle App in the near future.
Equally important is the need for the Post to expand its readership beyond the Beltway. There is no doubt that the Post is an important newspaper, but its importance diminishes as it goes beyond Washington DC. The Post’s main competitors, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have done an excellent job of becoming national newspapers. I, for one, have read the Wall Street Journal for the last 25 years and I have never lived in New York City. If the Post is to become a national newspaper, it will have to expand business and international reporting and take a less provincial approach to news gathering.
It will be interesting to watch how Bezos will innovate and experiment with his new catch. If he does it well, he could breathe new life into the Post and, in return, teach a few things to an industry that desperately needs it.