The important thing is that newspaper companies were rich, obscenely so in some cases, in their own right. And from that wealth flowed what can only be called a real kind of independence. The phrase “independent media” is often thought of as “independent from government,” and that’s particularly true in Central and Eastern Europe. But in its preferred state, press owners are independent from anybody, including technology titans or oil barons. The old Dow Jones used to resist even taking out loans for fear of being, or even appearing to be, beholden to banks. But then, it could afford to.

How the old order used that power is another matter, but the fact is, they had it. And in the case of no small number of powerful newspaper companies—The Times, Dow Jones, Knight-Ridder, the Post itself—they often used it to great effect.

In the new model, on the other hand, the press is not powerful in its own right. The titans’ power flows from elsewhere. The press is, in an economic sense, incidental to their wealth. Journalism under this new model is enveloped by, and dependent upon, interests far larger and quite different from its own.

The press, as we know, can be powerful, as Bezos himself has learned over the years.

But, under this new model, can it be really called independent?

 

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014).

Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.