The Good, Bad, and Nostalgic of Bezos's Washington Post
The surprise announcement of Jeff Bezos's purchase of the Washington Post is still reverberating through the media with shock, as the storied paper looks towards a Graham-less future.
The surprise announcement of Jeff Bezos's purchase of the Washington Post is still reverberating through the media with shock, as the storied paper looks towards a Graham-less future. To get across that this isn't just Big Media News, but also a significant, disorienting shift for the paper itself, here's Washington Post's front page for tomorrow:
First edition. pic.twitter.com/0pZOzsHUJi— J. Freedom du Lac (@jfdulac) August 6, 2013
The change of ownership is being met with a lot of looking back to the past, and to the family that's owned the paper for generations. The Post explains:
From Eugene Meyer to Philip Graham to Katharine Graham to Donald Graham to Katharine Weymouth, it was always a question of when power would shift from one generation to the next, not whether it would.
The story also got A1 treatment from the New York Times, who wrote that "Mr. Bezos will now have a microphone as powerful as anyone in Washington and outside the West Wing." David Carr at the Times spoke to Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Company. He said "We knew we could survive, but we always felt that our ownership should do more than help the paper survive." Carr added:
To many, the Washington that the newspaper once guided from family dinners and select Georgetown salons disappeared long before the sale. The rise of the Web site Politico — built by people trained and nurtured at The Washington Post — and other insurgents foretold a change in the order of things. The days when people snapped open the daily paper to find out the things they should care about were long past, replaced by a cacophony of information sources, many of them far more driven by ideology than The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, Reuters shares an anecdote of the Grahams' tradition of flying out a handful of senior editors for a luxury resort family mingling:
[The editors] knew that when the big story broke, they would be told personally by Graham to mobilize without regard to cost. The Grahams tended to describe their mission not as making money but as "stewardship" in the public interest, a message passed down through four generations and from the family to the newspaper's managers.
We at the Atlantic Wire also looked backwards, but in kind of a different way. Here's a look at the first few years of the Post's coverage of Bezos.
The Verge spoke to (anonymous) Post staffers about the announcement of the sale. As they tell it, the mood was grim. "It was like a funeral," one said. The Verge adds, "Some on staff weren't sure about Bezos' history as an employer or his attitude towards the news business. For those employees hoping for an owner like the Grahams, generally beloved by the staff, they will likely be disappointed."
At the New Republic, Alec MacGillis lays out the ethical case against Bezos:
Let’s not kid ourselves here: The company that made him one of the richest men in the world has had a less than benign impact on our nation. It has devastated the publishing industry, from the big presses to the small booksellers. It has exacerbated the growth of the low-wage economy, to the point where the president feels the need to celebratean increase in warehouse jobs that will pay barely more than minimum wage.
He's famously run Amazon as a deliberately low-margin, growth-oriented firm. If he runs the newspaper in anything like that same spirit, it'll be an excellent thing for the world, whether or not it works out as a business.
The LA Times, too, takes a business take on why Bezos could be good for taking the paper in a new direction:
Experimenting is something Bezos knows how to do. As the founder of Amazon.com, he upended a decades-old business model in retailing, in part by pushing an old, forgotten verity to the forefront: Customer service is all. Anyone who has tried to get satisfaction for a disappointing purchase from Amazon versus, say, Sears, knows that Amazon almost always does what it takes to bring a consumer back again
Politico published a piece channeling the collective bafflement of the media industry in the wake of the news. The author doesn't quite go Pete Wells at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar on Bezos, but it seems that the sale has left many with a long list of questions for the new newspaper owner, which Politico attempts to answer. Businessweek also went with the surprise angle for their analysis of the purchase.