Jeff Bezos & The Washington Post: This Changes Everything
Jeff Bezos’ private purchase of The Washington Post might very well come to mark the moment when newspapers returned to relevance.
There are those that see the move as a means to compete with Marc Zuckerberg, the Koch brothers, the Allbrittons, the Murdoch’s and others whose investments in media have enabled them to participate in – and to some degree, shape – the news. Others may see Bezos as simply adding another interesting investment to a portfolio already teaming with quirky projects.
But this is about more than a Bully Pulpit, and Bezos has more interest here than merely doing something interesting. The cross-pollination of a once-great paper and a digital giant like Amazon has potential too great to go unexplored. Put as succinctly as possible, it can digitize, personalize, globalize, and revitalize a paper that was not just in decline; but that was scooped on its own sale by Politico, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and the Washington Business Journal, among others, because it remains an Internet-generation behind a sea of new competitors.
Login to Amazon.com and you’re unlikely to see a single advertisement or link that isn’t at least tangentially related to your lifestyle and interests. That individualized customer experience is a major element in Amazon’s success. Bring the same thinking to The Post and the natural result is a revolutionary online presence that features a different newspaper for every reader, uniquely tailored to each individual profile. Post readers may not even have to opt-in for such levels of customization; Amazon’s data management techniques will tell the paper which articles – and, equally important, which advertisements – they are most likely to engage. This won’t just revolutionize news; it will change advertising as we knew it, just when we thought we were getting comfortable with the existing revolution.
And when it comes to advertising revenues, innovative customization is likely only the tip of the iceberg. With direct links to Amazon’s industry-leading e-commerce platform, The Post’s book or product reviews – and even articles that simply mention particular products or services – could be transformed into myriad points of sale. That would be a significant point of differentiation for marketers, and one that could generate the revenues needed to rebuild The Post’s reputation for first-class reporting.
Combine that with the cutting-edge digital customization outlined above and the paper could once again become the world’s portal into one of its most powerful cities – reversing a 30-year trend that has seen The Post’s audience shrink to predominantly those inside or around the Beltway. It can do for politics and geopolitical power what the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have done for business and finance. New innovations may even be a springboard to bigger budgets for investigative reporting; the ability to more comprehensively cover niche government beats; a renewed focus on foreign affairs; and the restoration of other standards that made The Post a global authority in the Watergate era.
Mr. Bezos likely recognizes that Katharine Weymouth was dealt a tough hand when she took the helm, but her tenure began with pay for play salons and was highlighted by a valentine in the New York Times the day before the sale was announced; a valentine that all but said “save my job.” Declining relevance, layoffs, and a digital vision that was lacking even by newspaper standards may not be a fair measure of her effectiveness in this toughest of eras for print journalism – and she may still play a leading role at the paper. But as The Post sets itself to the task of creating the new, new media, it’s Jeff Bezos vision that will surely lead the way.
With no investors to answer to, proven digital strategies, innovative advertising platforms, and The Post’s still stellar reputation for credibility in tow, he is just the leader needed to turn the paper around. Before all is said and done, he just might create the template that saves the Fourth Estate.
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Richard Levick, Esq., Chairman and CEO of LEVICK, represents countries and companies in the highest-stakes global communications matters — from the Wall Street crisis and the Gulf oil spill to Guantanamo Bay and the Catholic Church. Mr. Levick was honored for the past four years on NACD Directorship’s list of “The 100 Most Influential People in the Boardroom,” and has been named to multiple professional Halls of Fame for lifetime achievement. He is the co-author of three books, including The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis, and is a regular commentator on television, in print, and on the most widely read business blogs.