Independent Thinking Blog

Can Jeff Bezos Reinvent Journalism?

By now you’ve probably heard that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is purchasing the Washington Post. It’s always noteworthy when a major media company changes hands–and often, in my opinion, this has not turned out to be in the best interest of journalism, readers, or an informed public.

This time may be different.

Here are three big reasons to watch what happens next:

1. Long-term Outlook. Bezos is famous for making decisions that forsake short-term profits with an eye on long-term business success. One example: Kindle pricing, which is set low in order to put a device into your hands. Once you have a Kindle, where do you think you’re going to shop for content? (Amazon, of course.) His actions make sense when you’re building long-term demand but don’t sync up with what Wall Street wants today. By taking the Washington Post Company private, he’ll have time to invest, experiment, and build an audience.

2. Rocketship Thinking. In addition to his Amazon empire, Bezos founded a company to build rocketships and make space travel affordable. This ambitious, “shoot for the stars” thinking is what’s needed if investigative journalism is to survive—let alone thrive. We don’t know yet what the next business model for journalism will be, and any experimentation is still in its infancy. Much of it, like the New York Times pricing model, ignores digital ubiquity–and is not (in my opinion) sustainable. Bezos’ deep pockets, bold disruptive vision, and long-term approach suggest that the Washington Post will be at the forefront in figuring this out.

3. Customer Focus. Do you know the best way to find an article on the Washington Post’s Web site? Google’s search bar. The site architecture and internal search capability are so bad that it is next to impossible to find what you’re looking for. Either this has been a secret, stupid attempt to increase page views or (more likely) it’s just been a colossal failure of understanding how people navigate the Web. Either way, I’m betting Bezos brings his Amazonian focus on helping users find what they want (and often what we didn’t know we wanted) to the Washington Post.

I don’t know what the future holds for the Washington Post. What I do know is that this will be fascinating to watch. Stay tuned.

Photo by Mari Francille (Flickr).

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