In 1913, great newspapers were rich men's toys. By 1963, they'd become mighty independent corporations. In 2013 …
— David Frum (@davidfrum) August 5, 2013
You know Trump’s thinking about making a play for the Times. No way is he going to pass on a magnate schwanz-measuring contest with this much media heat. Yuge:
Bezos, in an interview, called The Post “an important institution” and expressed optimism about its future. “I don’t want to imply that I have a worked-out plan,” he said. “This will be uncharted terrain and it will require experimentation.”
He said, “There would be change with or without new ownership. But the key thing I hope people will take away from this is that the values of The Post do not need changing. The duty of the paper is to the readers, not the owners.”…
Bezos said he would maintain his home in Seattle and would delegate the paper’s daily operations to its existing management. “I have a fantastic day job that I love,” he said.
He and current owner Donald Graham each posted letters to the paper’s staff. Graham’s is interesting for the candor of one particular line: “[T]he newspaper business continued to bring up questions to which we have no answer…” Bezos’s is interesting for its hints at answers to come:
There will of course be change at The Post over the coming years. 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.
Bezos is widely understood to be a libertarian, but since he’s less activist in his beliefs than the Koch brothers, his takeover of a journalistic institution is being greeted as a buzzworthy curiosity rather than the opening of the first seal in Revelation. He’s donated mostly to Democrats too, which will help reassure his new employees.
A few points. One: Per DrewM, the combined value of the Washington Post and Boston Globe these days is more than $100 million less than the least valued major league baseball team — or, if you prefer, half the amount that the Qatari royals paid for Current TV. If you’ve got $250 million to play with, what’s a better use of your money, a yacht with all the trimmings or the political influence that comes with owning the paper of record in the capital of the most powerful country in the world?
Two: If anyone can figure out a way to make newspapers profitable in the digital age, it’s Bezos, no? The fears that would normally come with a tremendously powerful online entrepreneur extending his influence by buying up a major paper seem more muted this afternoon, just because his success with Amazon suggests he might have the answers to the questions that Graham mentions. There’s some truth to this, too:
FWIW, rich people owning newspapers has almost always been better for the newspapers than when big chains or public companies own them.
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) August 5, 2013
Ace thinks Bezos will keep the Post reliably Democratic in orientation. I don’t know. It may be that he cares less about shaping the news than about the challenge of building a news outlet that succeeds online where others have failed miserably. If I were him, I wouldn’t want any political grief from a comparatively tiny asset like the Post bleeding over into my main business. He just bought himself a lot of cachet. All he can do now is annoy half of his Amazon customers by wielding it in a manner that’s too politically antagonistic.
Three: Antitrust laws are destined for a political comeback in the years ahead, especially as grassroots conservatives turn more populist economically. That’s another reason why I think Bezos will tread lightly in partisan terms — the public’s antenna is already up for GoogleAppleAmazonFacebook expansion, especially after the Snowden leaks highlighted the extent of tech companies’ cooperation with NSA surveillance. The more antagonistic they are to one party or the other, the more traction antitrust sentiment will get on one side of the aisle. And they’ll have enemies in the media too, of course, willing to amplify those concerns. How do you think the NYT will react if Amazon starts promoting WaPo content on its front page?
If you’ve never seen “Epic 2014” before, watch it now. It was produced in 2004 but it gets more interesting by the day. “EPIC,” at around 6:30, can’t be long now.