As a print journalist one has at least a notional interest in the future of the print media which, as we are frequently reminded by Stephen Colbert, is becoming an anachronistic curiosity. Therefore, I receive the news of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos personally buying The Washington Post for $250 million with barely recognizable enthusiasm.
There will be those who look for some profound importance to this bit of news. Let me tell them Bezos buying the Post has zero significance. It deserves no news analysis other than saying it is a routine business transaction. Bezos could spare a quarter of a billion dollars and the owners of the Post could use it. That is all there is to it.
Bezos himself seems to be treating his own acquisition with a meh when he implies he may not be a hands-on owner.“I am happily living in ‘the other Washington’ where I have a day job that I love,” he has been quoted as saying even while adding that he has no intentions of leaving his Amazon perch. That makes sense because the Post purchase is a personal one and has nothing to do with the company that gave him the easy liquidity to buy it.
There are reports of Post staffers and media analysts feeling “shocked” by the news. I wonder why journalists should be shocked by any news. That’s what they do for a living. On the fact of it, it appears that Bezos has no sinister intentions of using the Post to set his own political agenda, although with a platform like that it might seem inevitable. The Post is one of the world’s great newspapers and that alone gives it the kind of weight that Bezos could have never created with Amazon. At best it will always remain a trading platform. The Post, on the other hand, gives him immediate clout in circles he never thought he could make an impact.
Of course, with an estimated personal fortune of $25 billion it is debatable whether Bezos needed the Post to make his voice heard. However, there is something to owning a great newspaper which brings its own gravitas which often outweigh billions.
Being an astute and inventive business mind it goes without saying that Bezos has something up his sleeve to turn the Post into a property more financially viable. He has the pieces in place, including the hugely successful Kindle which can be a powerful deliverer of the Post content. Perhaps the trick would be to monetize individual pieces of that content rather than the whole newspaper, a model that has not really worked.
The news is of no personal consequence to me as a fast fading print journalist. It is not as if Bezos will give me a job with the rationale that if he could cough up $250 million, he can afford another $100,000 in annual salary for me.