Washington Post sold to Amazon's Jeff Bezos: 3 reasons to be cheerful

Monday, August 5, 2013
News that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post came as a shock to just about everyone I know -- or at least everyone I've heard from -- in the news business.
A media company can go sour under any owner, no matter how celebrated his rep or noble his intentions. And Bezos' rep with organized labor is hardly spotless. But I see at least three reasons he may be the leader journalism needs for the 21st Century.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos starts his High Order Bit presentation, 15 March 2005, (James Duncan Davidson from Portland, USA)
Bezos in 2005. (James Duncan Davidson)
1. He's a champion of objectivity. His pledge in a letter to Post employees to "follow the story, no matter the cost" rings true. Amazon's customer review feature, an essential element of what I've called "The Miracle on 34th Street" philosophy, has for years let the public criticize the very products Amazon sells. That's a degree of forthrightness rarely seen in any business, but it's a fundamental value of journalism.

2. He's unsentimental about paper.  Recognizing the centrality of the word, regardless of medium, he championed electronic texts even though the sale of traditional books fueled his fortune. Organizations aiming to carry journalism's core values into the digital age need to recognize those values can and now must exist independent of cellulose.

3. He can get investors to take the long view. As Matthew Yglisias wrote for Slate in January, Bezos has persuaded Wall Street to back Amazon despite its "razor-thin profit margins," in essence creating "a charitable organization being run ... for the benefit of consumers." Isn't that what we expect of journalistic organizations?

Bonus reason: He could make the Post the first newspaper delivered to space.

All of which is why, when I heard the news, I tweeted: "Hey, @washingtonpost, where do I sign up?"

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