OLD Media Moves

Bezos speaks to Washington Post newsroom

September 5, 2013

Posted by Liz Hester

Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos spoke to the Washington Post newsroom and was apparently a hit with the reporters, according to the New York Times:

Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s founder and the prospective new owner of The Washington Post, assured newsroom employees on Wednesday that he was committed to preserving quality journalism, investing in news and making sure The Post adhered to his underlying philosophy about content: “Don’t be boring.”

Over the course of the day, he gave some indication of the kind of journalism that interested him, answered questions about the Post’s coverage of Amazon and did not disguise his interest at the intersection of his businesses, telling an afternoon meeting that “it should be as easy to get a subscription to The Post as it is to buy diapers on Amazon,” according to one employee who attended the meeting.

The two-day visit was Mr. Bezos’s first trip to The Post since he agreed to buy the paper in early August for $250 million. Before the deal closes in October, Mr. Bezos made the visit to chat with employees from both the business and editorial sides about his plans for the company. By the end of his visit late Wednesday, Mr. Bezos seemed to have won over employees who posted photographs of him, speculated on how many electronic devices he had in his pockets, liberally quoted his thoughts on the news business on social media and gave him the hashtag #bezospalooza.

“He charmed the room of 20 hard-bitten journalists,” said Jeffrey Leen, The Post’s investigations editor, who attended a lunch meeting with Mr. Bezos. “He was a big supporter of investigative reporting, which warmed my heart. He already has a very good grasp of our business. It was, all in all, a very impressive performance.”

Mr. Bezos started the day Wednesday with an hourlong breakfast with Bob Woodward in the ninth-floor publisher’s private dining room, where the two men dined on a fruit plate, poached eggs, spinach, coffee and orange juice. Mr. Woodward said in an e-mail after the meeting that through the breakfast, “Jeff Bezos explained the thinking behind his reasoned and careful step-by-step process in deciding to buy The Post.”

The Wall Street Journal story was much more straightforward in terms of reporting on his visit. They added these details about his comments:

Mr. Bezos’s comments included a familiar warning to traditional newsrooms about how the Internet had upended the traditional newspaper business model by allowing readers to consume individual articles, rather than entire editions and subscriptions. He further said that online outlets were challenging traditional media outlets by picking up their exclusive stories. He said the Post needs to figure out a way to address the issue.

Mr. Bezos also talked generally about the need for the Post to embrace modern technology such as tablets. One of the people at the meeting said Mr. Bezos raised the possibility of the Post working at arms-length from Amazon, such as selling Post subscriptions on the site.

He also said that the paper, which has reduced its workforce in recent years, would be rendered obsolete if it continued to cut staff, said people in the meeting.

Mr. Bezos met with a select group of reporters and editors Wednesday morning and held a question-and-answer session with the newsroom later Wednesday afternoon. In the morning meeting, according to an article published by the Post online, Mr. Bezos told attendees that “making money isn’t enough.” He added that the business has to be growing.

Mr. Bezos’s purchase of the paper has raised questions about how the Web billionaire might try to revive a newspaper which, like others in the industry, has suffered a long-term decline in print advertising revenue and the defection of readers to the Web.

The Guardian story reported that Bezos planned to give his opinion on where the paper should go in the future:

Speaking to the Post before meeting staff for the first time on Tuesday, Bezos said his major contribution would be to offer his “point of view” to the paper’s leadership. He also said he would provide “runway”, which the Post described as “financial support over a lengthy period in which the management can experiment to find a profitable formula for delivering the news”.

“If we figure out a new golden era at the Post … that will be due to the ingenuity and inventiveness and experimentation of the team at the Post,” Bezos said. “I’ll be there with advice from a distance. If we solve that problem, I won’t deserve credit for it.”

The interview was published on Tuesday, as Bezos was due to visit the Washington Post for the first time since agreeing to pay $250m for the newspaper in August. Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 and oversaw its growth into an omnipresent internet giant that has left him with a $22bn fortune.

“We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: put the customer first. Invent. And be patient,” he told the Post. “If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at the Post, too.”

As Bezos finalizes the deal for the Post, he will need to reassure the reporters and editors as well as articulate his vision for paper. His vision for how the paper would work with Amazon as well as his comments about keeping employees should make some feel better. With all change, it will be interesting to see what actually happens, but it’s probably good for the paper to have an owner with deep pockets and ideas about how to build a new media company.

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