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“The irrational world of newspaper ownership”
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Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is going to buy the Washington Post for $250 million, ending four generations of ownership by the Graham family, which oversaw a paper that broke the Watergate scandal and was once the rival of any paper in the world. In a memo to WashPost employees, Bezos channeled the Grahams: “follow the story, no matter the cost.” In his own memo, Graham said seven straight years of revenue declines had made him wonder if the paper should still be owned by a small public company.
The news sparked a round of elegies for the Graham era: Bob Woodward said “this may be the Post’s last chance to survive, at least in some form of what it was.” David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker and a former WashPost reporter, says Graham “sacrificed his family’s ownership in the hopes of saving the thing itself.” James Fallows called the sale a “genuine earthquake,” and it marked “the beginning of a phase in which this Gilded Age’s major beneficiaries re-invest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence.”
As for what Bezos may invest in the paper, Jack Shafer has a warning for any possible competition. Bezos “means to use this foothold to go after the most lucrative parts of your businesses in one of the richest corners of the country. He’ll spend you to death.” Amazon, Simon Dumenco writes, is known for “brutally hyper-competitive (even anti-competitive) tactics.” Christopher Mims tweeted that Bezos now owns a paper covering labor, and runs a company that is battling unions. Another possible conflict: the paper helped break the NSA scandal, while Amazon builds a cloud computing project for the CIA, Gawker writes.
Emily Bell wonders if Bezos will “like the irrational world of newspaper ownership,” where “the greatest measure of success is to irritate, damage or, at best, remove a president and other public officials.” The newspaper business, Felix writes, produces its best work when there’s some slack in the system. A soulless, hyper-efficient Amazon fulfillment center this is not. Here’s Felix:
The fact is that Jeff Bezos is now an employer of journalists, and as such he is in charge of hiring and firing and paying a group of employees quite unlike any he has hired in the past. They’re not always rational, they’re not always efficient, and as a group they tend towards the skeptical and cantankerous. On top of that, they’re not entirely motivated by money.
– Ryan McCarthy
On to today’s links: