The main thrust of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s interview with the Washington Post about how he’ll run the paper (his first since buying the Post last month), is that he’ll bring the same sensibility he used at Amazon, which he boils down to: “Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.” That means Bezos plans to provide a “runway” of financial support for Post management to experiment with ways to make the paper profitable. And he doesn’t expect change to happen quickly. Or rather, he has a unique idea of what “quickly” means. “You develop theories and hypotheses, but you don’t know if readers will respond. You do as many experiments as rapidly as possible. ‘Quickly’ in my mind would be years.” But Bezos was clear that he wanted the Post’s mission to have “readers at its centerpiece,” not advertisers, and that he wants those readers to buy in.
“I’m skeptical of any mission that has advertisers at its centerpiece. Whatever the mission is, it has news at its heart,” Bezos said. He offered no specific plans for revamping the Post, but he did outline what he saw as its key challenge:
“The Post is famous for its investigative journalism,” he said. “It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of Web sites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free. One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment? If you can’t, it’s difficult to put the right resources behind it … Even behind a paywall [digital subscription], Web sites can summarize your work and make it available for free. From a reader point of view, the reader has to ask, ‘Why should I pay you for all that journalistic effort when I can get it for free’ from another site?”
While Bezos positioned himself in the interview as an adviser “from a distance,” he plans to meet with twenty reporters and editors face-to-face during a visit Wednesday, then the whole newsroom later. “If we figure out a new golden era at The Post … that will be due to the ingenuity and inventiveness and experimentation of the team at The Post,” he said.