The Future Of Journalism?

Even with this nose, sometimes the crystal ball provides a clear view.

“Answer unclear”? Not this time. Image credit: Mashup of this picture and this one by Cujo359.

It’s been official for a day or so now, as The New York Times reports:

The Washington Post, the newspaper whose reporting helped topple a president and inspired a generation of journalists, is being sold for $250 million to the founder of Amazon.com, Jeffrey P. Bezos, in a deal that has shocked the industry.

Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Company, and the third generation of the Graham family to lead the paper, told the staff about the sale late Monday afternoon. They had gathered together in the newspaper’s auditorium at the behest of the publisher, Katharine Weymouth, his niece.

“I, along with Katharine Weymouth and our board of directors, decided to sell only after years of familiar newspaper-industry challenges made us wonder if there might be another owner who would be better for the Post (after a transaction that would be in the best interest of our shareholders),” Mr. Graham said in a written statement.

Bezos, Amazon’s Founder, to Buy The Washington Post


Taylor Marsh reacted to this news this way:

REACTIONARY negativity against Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post is founded on ignorance of necessity being the mother of reinvention.

No one knows what the future will bring for the Washington Post under Jeff Bezos, but the imperative for Don Graham to do something radical to save the brand his family built was serious.

Washington Post Buy by Bezos Signals New Era


Some of which, at least, is true. The Washington Post and other newspapers have been seeing their markets shrink for years. Some of that is their own fault, and some of it has to do with how the Internet has changed both the availability and cost of information. So yes, there was definitely a need for some radical change here. Unfortunately, not all change is good, and when its agent has the track record Jeff Bezos has, the likely result is all too predictable.

So I’ll take a wild stab at a prediction, based on things like this Twitter message yesterday from David Dayen:

This isn’t uniquely Bezos’ strategy for dealing with new acquisitions, but it reveals that he’s no better than average in that department.

I stopped doing business with Amazon a long time ago, more than a decade now. The issue back then was their bogus claim that the “one click” feature of their site was worthy of a patent. The patent was granted, mind you, but it was nonsense anyway. That patent, though, gave Amazon a distinct advantage over its competition. What Bezos seems to know about the Internet is how to use a compliant court system to put the competition at a disadvantage. That doesn’t bode well if you are hoping for a higher quality product out of the Washington Post.

No doubt I’d have gotten over that issue by now, but Amazon keeps giving me new reasons to avoid using them, like this business I alluded to previously. It’s not just the 110° F (43° C) heat that should be a concern, but the dehumanizing conditions that helped make such days possible.

This doesn’t bode well for the WaPo, either. Granted, the workers at that factory were mostly unskilled laborers, but treating workers this way doesn’t encourage worker retention. Becoming a journalist, like becoming any sort of professional, takes education, skill, and time. If your employees only stick around long enough to pick up a skill and then go elsewhere, you are going to have quality issues. When your product’s sales potential is based on the reputation of those workers, that’s doubly a problem.

That’s why I feel safe in predicting that whatever happens to the Washington Post, it won’t be good for the paper as a source of journalism, nor will it be good for those of us who want it to be one.

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About Cujo359
An engineer, computer programmer, and former defense worker who also does amateur theatre. Contact: my nom de ordinateur at earthlink.net

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