As a journalist, I have a soft spot for newspapers. I love the fact that there are jobs out there that pay journalists to go and cover extremely regional stories that aren’t exactly what we might call in the modern parlance “link bait.”
I got my start at a news paper that has been in continuous publication since 1799, something not even possible on the West Coast. But the spirit of that local journal lives on in even newer publications, such as the Oakland Post, which reports on local African American issues in Oakland. In fact, it was 6 years ago this month that Oakland Post reporter Chauncey Bailey was murdered by gangsters upset with his coverage of their ill-deeds.
But you’ve never heard of Bailey because the real journalists doing the really important work tend to be writing for a smaller audience than, say, Anderson Cooper is shooting for with his afternoon house-wife-focused talk show, or to whom Nancy Grace is pandering.
And so it has been with great sadness that I have observed the downfall of newspapers. But I was delighted to hear that Jeff Bezos has purchased the Washington Post. While I hear the news room at the Post is full of terrified reporters, worried their jobs will be destroyed, I’m much more optimistic.
For one thing, the Post has had a long relationship with Amazon, and not in the manner you might think. Way back when this whole cloud thing was getting started, one of the earliest success stories from Amazon’s EC2 was that of the Post making all of its old PDF’s searchable in something like 19 hours.
The Post IT squad was an early adopter of the technologies we now all rush to embrace. It’s been at the forefront of newspaper-dom, alongside the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as a distinctly professional outlet, and has actually managed to duck much of the controversy those other two papers have endured over their coverage, from time to time.
Bezos, on the other hand, has at least two motives that I can envision. The first is something to do with Kindle and ebooks. I’m sure you can figure out just how that part will work.
The second motive, however, may not be quite as obvious at first glance, but I distinctly believe it’s at play here. Bezos and Amazon have long fought legislation that might infringe on their ever-widening market reach. From battling Internet sales taxes, to keeping cloud computing comodities off the taxation watch-lists, to—yes, dare we say it—keeping employee benefits and requirements low in those sweat-shops Amazon calls its fulfillment warehouses. Bezos and Amazon have reason to be keen on garnering political influence.
When you own a newspaper—and I’ve heard Rupert Murdoch does this frequently with all of his papers—you can make your reporters sit down and chat with you whenever you and they have the time. Murdoch, for example, will gather the reporters he has at the Wall Street Journal on technology, and sit down to chat with them about what he should be paying attention to.
I’m sure he also has similar conversations with his political corespondents. And as we all know well, politics isn’t really about much more than having dirt on the other guy. And who has more dirt than reporters? Even unsubstantiated dirt can win lobbyists leverage with senators and representatives.
Even if this was not his primary motivator in the purchase, I’d be willing to bet we see Bezos and Amazon winning a lot more battles in Washington, and from state to state, in the coming years.