The same guy who took the broken world of book publishing and made it grow again while giving you and me and everybody a cheap way to embarrass ourselves in print has now bought the dear old Washington Post and wants to make it new again. I hope he can do for the news business what he has done for the book business.
OK, that’s the lead. The real story is that almost 20 years ago Jeff Bezos (you say bee-zohss; I say bay-zhoss) set the bookselling business on its ear by making it really convenient and fun and less expensive for we book lovers to scan, browse and buy the books we wanted to have time to scan, browse and buy, but didn’t.
In succeeding with this new way to buy books, he invented a new way to buy, apparently, everything. Amazon.com is now the world’s biggest department store. I go there first for just about everything because I do Amazon Prime and get free shipping every time. And the other retailers I like to buy from have all learned how to acquire and keep online customers because of what Amazon has done.
OK, fine. What about the Post? Well, if there was ever a business that got broken, it is the news business. Just watch The Newsroom. The TV news business got broken because of corruption of the news ideal; the print news business due to economics. (I know this is oversimplified, right?) The Post is in the tough position of being a business with a truly great, world-impacting product that it can no longer afford to produce. Too much brick and not enough click.
But the Post is a very special thing. In 1973-74, I reviled it every morning as I picked it up on my doorstep and dove into the front page. What did those treasonous snobs Woodward and Bernstein dream up yesterday? Thy may turned out to be snobs, spawning a new snobby type of journalism, but they were right and courageous and did us all a favor.
When you have the chance to write long, investigative pieces until they play out and live with the hope of saving the free world, like any newspaper reporter in the world’s greatest capital would do, you are doing something special and valuable, regardless of the broken-down medium you are depending on.
I can’t predict what Bezos will do with the Post, but I really think he’ll figure out how to make it thrive again. I don’t exactly know how he managed to keep Amazon going when he was losing money for so long, but he (and his investors) did because they knew that had the code book for buying stuff online. Here’s hoping they figure out the Post. We need it, like we needed a better way to buy books.