Why Did Jeff Bezos Buy the <i>Washington Post</i>?

Whatever happens, we can be dead certain that he will revolutionize newsgathering and the opinion business, and set up a new culture for others to follow. But like Amazon, his strongest suit is that he will have gotten there first.
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I have a theory on why Bezos bought the Post. After all, what does Bezos know that the Graham family with decades of experience, doesn't?

In today's environment where the print newspaper business is heading towards obsoletion, the Washington Post has been hemorrhaging money with no prospects of a turnaround. The reliable information spigot is broken, and we are flooded with a polluted digital deluge of contrived, opinionated, self-serving, erroneous, unchecked, inaccurate and false reportage that distorts our ability to know the truth about anything. We have become, quite literally, victims of our own information overload.

The more information that is thrown at us, the less we learn about what constitutes credibility. Indeed, credibility is the holy grail of news reporting and that is the missing link that I bet Bezos is seeking. I suspect that he wants to create what he believes will morph into the gold standard of reliability. In other words, he is seeking to create an enterprise that will, henceforth, be recognized as conveying the closest thing to authenticity in reporting events around the globe.

His innovative algorithms, in my opinion, will strive for a menu of unprecedented bias-free reporting and allow, too, for a special section containing an array of opinionated material covering all aspects of political, artistic, and community life and concerns. A tall order, I know, but then tall orders seem to be the motivating force in Bezos' psyche.

In its eight decades however, the Post has not been the absolutely perfect vessel for delivering the unbiased authentic truth, but it does have a self-made reputation for dogged pursuit of accuracy. Unfortunately, it has now succumbed to the peculiar bias that seems to afflict most media sources; they begin to believe in their own political certainty, which eventually dominates the cultures of their newsrooms.

At the very least, the Post is one of the most important, most prestigious, and longest lasting branded newspapers in the country. It has a long list of Pulitzer winners, excellent writing and a global presence. Although it has closed some of its far-flung foreign branches, it does have a network of freelancers, and it does try to provide reasonably reliable information from all over the world. Bezos will not have to build a brand from scratch. He has acquired this brand at $250 million, a bargain price considering the Post's net worth of $4 billion .

Barring any hidden agendas that Bezos might be entertaining, I believe that the new owner of the Post, at first, at least, will try to embellish the brand, and using his expertise as a content maven, will work to create an instrument of information that could be the one indispensable, go-to place on Earth where within human limits, unvarnished, unbiased, objective and authentic reporting may be found. It will, of course, take some personnel re-education and a massive effort of convincing the public.

On a parallel track, my bet is that he will offer under the Post banner, a Tower of Babel "grab bag" of conflicting opinions by a slate of columnists and bloggers, a rare assortment from the top tier of purveyors of news analysis and commentary.

When and if that happens, he will monetize it based on the premise that it is the only reliable dispenser of accurate information in the world and an outlet for reliable differences of opinion. As for the print edition as it is now constituted, he might experiment with keeping it alive in that form, but it will be an uphill battle.

In terms of today's broken politics Bezos has not tipped his hand on a definite political stance. He has donated to promote same sex marriage but that is, now, a fast becoming non-partisan position. My own sense is that he is too smart to become overtly political or to make his new acquisition an instrument for disseminating ideology. His goal, I believe, is more visionary, and Bezos is interested in the long term. After all, Bezos is financing and building the 10,000 year clock on his property, which will be built in a mountain in western Texas.

I am well aware that the New York Times, for decades, has been considered a vital source of information authenticity, and its owners believe implicitly in its slogan that it is purveying "all the news that's fit to print." Sadly, the Times too, has surrendered to the disease of political certainty that has afflicted the Post. Bias, of whatever persuasion, always distorts the truth and chases away the open minded. It is time for a Times reset. Perhaps Bezos will show them the way.

My theory doesn't quite end here. While it is true that the newspaper print business is in its death throes, their switch to digital seems imperfect in its presentation, a mere re-packaging and re-arranging of its print editions online. The digital editions are, like most things online, too diffuse, and too stuffed with unnecessary and irrelevant information. I do not believe that the readers of this material are getting the same quality experience they have been used to in the print editions. Watch for a Bezos reset in that realm as well.

As the saying goes, there must be a method to his madness, but Bezos' reputation for innovation with Amazon has been a revolutionary game changer in the publishing and retail business, and the times cry out for innovation in this field. It is an axiom of American ambition that people will pay for a better mousetrap.

Whatever happens, we can be dead certain that he will revolutionize newsgathering and the opinion business, and set up a new culture for others to follow. But like Amazon, his strongest suit is that he will have gotten there first.

Admittedly, I may be giving him more credit than he deserves, but it seems to be the only reason this purchase makes sense. Bezos is an inspired innovator. Some have called him a disruptor. That is classic cause and effect.

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