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Jeff Bezos to his future Washington Post journalists: Put the readers first

September 5, 2013

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Post staff meets the new boss: Jeffrey P. Bezos, the incoming owner of The Washington Post, walks with publisher Katharine Weymouth after visiting the newspaper’s offices.

Post staff meets the new boss: Jeffrey P. Bezos, the incoming owner of The Washington Post, walks with publisher Katharine Weymouth after visiting the newspaper’s offices.

Jeffrey P. Bezos had a simple bit of advice for the staff of the newspaper he’ll soon own: Put readers, not advertisers, first. Don’t write to impress each other. And above all, “Don’t be boring.”

In a whirlwind series of meetings over two days, the Amazon.com billionaire charmed and disarmed rooms full of skeptical journalists with a relentlessly upbeat vision that evoked The Washington Post’s best traditions while promising to update them for a technologically advanced new era.

The Bezos plan for the news organization he has agreed to buy for $250 million centers on recreating the “daily ritual” of reading The Post as a bundle, not merely a series of individual stories. He was bullish about creating that experience on tablet computers, lukewarm about the prospects of doing so on the Web, and reassuring about the future of the old-fashioned newspaper itself — at least for the foreseeable future.

“People will buy a package,” Bezos said at one meeting of reporters and editors. “They will not pay for a story.”

Bezos seemed relaxed throughout two days of meetings, including a town-hall-style session in The Post’s community room before hundreds of journalists. He spoke without notes and joked often, punctuating some of his witticisms and self-deprecating comments with explosive laughter. He remained poised and good-humored from his perch on stage at the town-hall meeting despite fighting a balky sound system.

Bezos also repeatedly emphasized the importance of investigative journalism and said he was prepared to stand up to pressure in reporting stories that government officials might seek to suppress. He also said his political views were already in line with those of The Post’s editorial page and would defer to its editor, Fred Hiatt, on many matters.

“I don’t feel the need to have an opinion on every issue,” Bezos said. “I’m sure I don’t know much about things like Syria and foreign entanglements. I’m happy to let the experts opine on that.”

Among those in attendance at the newsroom-wide meeting were former executive editors Ben Bradlee and Leonard Downie Jr., former managing editor Robert Kaiser and star investigative reporter Bob Woodward, lending the event an intergenerational bridge to the newspaper’s storied past. (Donald E. Graham, whose family controlled the newspaper for 80 years, was not there, but his niece, Post publisher Katharine Weymouth, was in attendance). Read more in the Washington Post.

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