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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is a welcome addition to journalism

August 12, 2013

By Don Tapscott

The Washington Post and newspapers in general will benefit from Jeff Bezos’ involvement, since the status quo is untenable. (Sept. 28, 2011) EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Washington Post and newspapers in general will benefit from Jeff Bezos’ involvement, since the status quo is untenable. (Sept. 28, 2011) EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

There’s been much speculation as to why Jeff Bezos stepped out of his day job as Amazon founder and CEO and bought the venerable Washington Post with $250 million from his personal bank account. Some have posited that newspapers are joining professional sports teams as a hobby for billionaires. One pundit suggested that Bezos was building a foundation for a run at the U.S. presidency, while another suggested he wants more clout in Washington. Another suggested he recognizes that the newspaper industry is broken and he wants to be part of building tomorrow’s industry.

Regardless of his motivation, Bezos’ purchase is significant. Few American newspapers have such an august history as the Washington Post. It was the Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who broke the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s that forced president Richard Nixon to resign. The paper ranks with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in terms of journalistic clout and ability to shape political discourse.

It is interesting but ultimately incidental that Bezos chose to buy the Post with personal funds rather than using Amazon money. This way he didn’t have to justify his purchase to Amazon’s board of directors or shareholders at the next annual general meeting. Using his personal bankroll keeps life simpler for Bezos and gives him greater latitude to try new ideas.

However, it would not be unprecedented for Amazon to directly invest in journalism. In 2007 the company bought the privately owned digital photography, which provides forums for camera buffs worldwide to have earnest discussions on whether Nikon is better than Canon. The website’s depth and breadth of technical research was given a big boost by Amazon and the site now attracts an industry-leading 7 million readers a month. The website provides the hard facts, and then the readers provide the bulk of the content. This could be instructive.

The Post and newspapers in general will benefit from Bezos’ involvement, since the status quo is untenable. Newspapers are throwing reporters overboard to stay afloat but they continue to lose money. Many quality papers have gone out of business, which is not healthy. Newspapers play a vital role. Good papers keep the public informed and provide expert comment on many aspects of our lives. They fund investigative journalism. Toronto, home to four English-language daily papers, doesn’t know just how lucky it is. So how can we inform ourselves as a society when the old vehicles for doing so are collapsing?

I can say with certainty that tomorrow’s newspaper won’t be delivered to your doorstep. Yesterday’s news on dead trees is not a sustainable business model for large dailies. I don’t know a single newspaper owner who disagrees with this assertion, but that is about all they can agree on. Read more in the Toronto Star.


From → Commentary

  1. Bill Johnson permalink

    Does the media community really want this guy? Here is an example of one of his companies: Why do American retailers insult Christians so easily? If they tried this with Muslims there would be mobs attacking our embassies around the world.

    So here’s a division of making light of the Crucifix. This is unacceptable! So is their official response to my respectful complaint. Just how long will Christians stand by and allow these insults?

    My criticism:
    “I have a real problem with your promotion: Get Your Cruci-Fix!

    I’m feeling that this is anti-Catholic or at the least anti-Christian. This is a serious matter not to be taken so lightly. Should you make fun of the Moslem or Jewish faith I believe you would be paying a significant price in public complaints. Make light of Muhammed and you would be facing a violent reaction.

    If this ever, ever happens again I will no longer receive your emails or do business with WOOT or Amazon. And, I will share my feelings with the world.”

    WOOT’s reply:
    Thank you for taking the time to email us. We appreciate your concerns as well as your business.
    Woot Member Services,

    • Mr. Bill Johnson,
      I cannot understand WHY the media is, for the most part, so uniformly enthusiastic about the Washington Post sale. I am aware of numerous questionable practices associated with Mr. Bezos’s Amazon conglomerate e.g. inhumane treatment of warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, Ireland and Germany.

      I agree with you, that the entirely Amazon-owned Woot’s advertisement,
      “Get Your Cruci-Fix!”
      is rude, disrespectful and insulting. Even more puzzling is the fact that it is not good business sense. Why would any rational business wish to insult potential customers? I can only think of two possibilities.
      1. Woot employees are so grossly ignorant that they do not realize the significance of the Roman Catholic church, and the symbolism associated with that particular item for over 2000 years. Whether one is a Christian, another faith or no faith at all, there should be sufficient awareness to not, well, do what they did. If they have so little sense, it doesn’t say much about Woot employees.
      2. Mr. Bezos’s scorn and disdain for his employees is such that they are very, very disaffected, and no longer care about anything. This is the more likely scenario, otherwise you would have received a more sane response to your complaint.

      I think the answer should be, no, the media should NOT want this to be indicative of their future, and of journalism.

      • Bill Johnson permalink

        Thanks Ellie for your insightful comments!

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