Future of the Washington Post is worth watching
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2013 00:08
Earlier this month, the Washington Post was sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos by the Graham family, who had owned it for over 80 years. The sale was a huge and unexpected shake-up in the newspaper world and has fueled much speculation into the exec’s plans for the legendary paper. This certainly isn’t the most important thing that happened this summer, but I think it’s one of the most interesting. What Bezos and the Post do next will probably be worth watching.
While Bezos hasn’t said anything about his plans for the paper, we can pretty safely assume that he wants to bring it into the 21st century. In contrast to the 20th century entrepreneurs that preceded him, Bezos probably isn’t buying the Post to be a mouthpiece or a vanity project. Bezos is worth billions, and the $250 million price tag for the post is a drop in the bucket to him, as is the revenue the paper currently generates. An exec at one of the top companies in America would know that there are many cheaper and more efficient ways of buying influence than purchasing a print newspaper in 2013. Bezos is a 21st century baron doing what his 20th century predecessors did, but there seems to be something different about his approach. All of this points to the idea that he’s going to turn the Post into something new, and whatever it is, it will probably have a big impact on the media.
The best technology doesn’t reinvent the wheel; it combines the best aspects of the old and the new. Jeff Bezos’s previous work with Amazon proves that, and hopefully his future work with the Post will follow in the same vein. The Washington Post and its new owner are a great example of old and new in themselves. The Post is famous for in-depth investigative reporting and has a long history of breaking and covering some of the most important stories in the US. None of that should change. But the Post has also experienced declining sales for the last seven years and lost about a quarter of its circulation in the last 20 years. Even online readership has declined, mostly due to a somewhat clunky website and a paywall.
These are the things that will hopefully be improved under Bezos’s leadership. He’s certainly demonstrated the knowledge and creativity that it would take to make the Post modern and lucrative, but it’s entirely up to him what happens with it. Everyone wants to see news take the giant leap that retail has taken with Amazon and companies like it. It’s time to stop talking about the decline of print media and talk about what comes next. The quality and integrity of a paper like the Post can only be improved by taking advantage of new technology.
The sale also says just as much about the direction of the media as it does about the Post. It was a long time coming, but newspapers are finally addressing their reluctance to cater to a digital audience. They will need new ideas. The powers that be have finally realized that the future of newspapers isn’t just newspapers online.
The potential is there for something far more efficient, interactive and reliable. The past few years have shown a number of new and inventive ways of delivering the news, but those ideas are hopefully just the beginning of major changes in the media. Bezos has the opportunity to take the next step with the Washington Post and make it an industry leader again.
In the future, news will be thought of as a global conversation about what’s going on. This isn’t a new idea, and it’s certainly happening right now. Every day that conversation grows. This incredible expansion of communication and connectedness is the best thing that could happen to the media, and anyone with the power to further it, from CEOs to students, should do so. Anyone who reads this column, anywhere in the world, is welcome to discuss any part of it with me online.
So, in the face of civil wars, coups and security leaks, the sale of a newspaper doesn’t seem that important, but the changing face of media has already had a huge impact on the world. It can be seen in many of the events mentioned above. The way we record and receive information about the events happening around us is going to be one of the most important stories of all.