They’ve tried, certainly editorially, to invest in those kinds of voices. And they’ve had some success editorially. Ezra’s a very strong asset for them. But whether you could really build a total strategy out of that, while also solving the problems regionally of revenue generation and circulation, that might be a big ask.
Bezos has a reputation for managing Amazon for growth rather than profits, and as long as we’re speculating about his intentions, is that something that we should be encouraged by?
It could be relevant. As you say, we can only speculate about his intentions at this stage. I don’t know him and have never met him, and I don’t really know how to interpret the record that he presents as the new owner of The Washington Post. But I would divide it into aspects of his record that seem encouraging potentially and aspects of his record that raise questions.
On the encouraging side, the fact that he has managed Amazon with very long time horizons in mind, is I think very encouraging. He built that company, not for the next quarter, and not even for the next year, but for decades. And he’s still arguing to shareholders and analysts that they need to be patient while it continues down this very long horizon. So that’s a temperament, a strategic perspective, that he’ll need. Secondly, he has resources; how deep he wants to reach into his pockets to support this effort, who knows. But he certainly has resources and the chances to employ them. And the other thing that I’ve heard people mention that sounds right to me is that he’s a fierce competitor. The book industry, and lots of people I know, love to hate Amazon because it is fearsome and effective when it chooses to compete on price or market share. That comes from the top, that spirit of really wanting to own something when you go into it. And if he brings that commitment to the Post and defines the landscape broadly and ambitiously, if he really wants to build a great, enduring journalism organization on a global scale or on a national or even just regionally, it could be an asset.
On the less encouraging side, I take note from his first statement, in which he said it’s all about what readers what. Well, yes, but… That’s the data science and customer preference speaking. And in my experience watching this the last 10 years, it’s very difficult to build a great newsroom when you overemphasize the data science of customer preferences. You already have a newsroom that’s half or two-thirds of its former self and in a state of anxiety now doubled by this ownership transition. You have to be clear about what matters, and that journalism matters. Now, if he retains Marty Baron, who’s a great editor, and commits himself to that sort of thing, that would be great. But I don’t know.
I think we’ve seen so many outside CEOs and successes in other industries come to the newspaper industry with the assumption that with the insights they’ve gained from their other successes will be applicable. Brian Tierney, who bought the Inquirer in Philadelphia. Sam Zell in Chicago. And I shudder to think that if we went back and looked at the comments 24 hours after those announcements how much optimism we would discover—never mind how much hubris the new owners would have expressed. But, look, Jeff Bezos is leagues above those two examples; his intelligence, and his accomplishments, and his character even, I think, in comparison to Zell at least. But is that enough? People really don’t know what they don’t know. The news business is as much art as science. And that’s the part that I wonder about; it’ll be a really interesting experiment.