One insight from Jeff Bezos's Washington Post interview that bodes well for the future of media
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos finally granted an interview to the newspaper he just bought. He evidently didn't spend much time on the phone with the Washington Post reporters, but he provided enough fodder to keep the "Is Bezos going to save newspapers?" meme in the headlines for another couple of weeks. (Case in point: This post.)
I just wanted to zero in on one of his comments, which I believe signals why the media industry has a brighter future than its current state would seem to imply. To me, the most important thing is not that Bezos has lots of money to fund business model experiments – it's his recognition of the power of the story.
Bezos made that point inadvertently while discussing why printing on paper is not crucial to a newspaper's future, a realization driven by his experience with ebooks and the Kindle.
“The key thing about a book is that you lose yourself in the author’s world,” Bezos told the Post. “Great writers create an alternative world."
It doesn't matter if you find your way into that world through print or digital, Bezos added.
This comment speaks to the strength of editorial operations such as the Washington Post and other traditional newspapers and magazines, which have invested in storytelling talent and developed it over time. These storytellers and their stories – many of which manifest themselves as "news" – are these publications' greatest resources.
That asset has remained consistent even as newspapers transition from a print-dominated landscape to one that is increasingly digital. The greatest challenge for newspapers, then, is erecting a new business structure that will help support the act of storytelling for a long time to come.
On that front, Bezos confessed to not having any answers to the Washington Post's financial woes. But he did express optimism. "I’ve been told, ‘Jeff, you’re fooling yourself; the problem is unsolvable.’ But I don’t think so. It just takes a lot of time, patience and experimentation.”
That acknowledgment of the power of storytelling coupled with the belief that there will be a solution to the newspaper industry's financial woes resonates with Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget's view that, thanks to digital tools and global readerships, we are now in a "golden age of journalism" and that it's just the business side that needs to catch up. Interestingly enough, Bezos is an investor in Business Insider. In his defense of journalism as a money-making phenomenon, Blodget wrote:
[W]hen some of today's upstart digital news organizations have matured, and the transformation of the newspaper business is complete, the journalism business is not just going to be okay. It's going to be excellent.
All we have to do is get through this tumultuous transition period. For all the criticisms one might have of the Washington Post's new owner – and, for instance, NSFW Corp's David Sirota has many – one has to agree that Bezos, at the very least, has the money and the patience to be able to help the Washington Post endure that tumultuous period.
That is the crux of the BezosPost story so far.
Illustration by Hallie Bateman