When we were children and encountered a problem, we went to our parents, and they fixed it.
Parents can fix anything.
As we get older we take on more of our own problems, maybe asking advice. Well into adulthood, it’s hard to shake the urge to at least ask for advice when we come up against a really big problem.
Which leads me to the reaction to Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos buying the Washington Post.
I’ve seen this movie before, and I’m getting the serious feeling that everyone in the news industry is waiting for Dad to show up and Fix It.
As the old business model – using low prices for the product to build audience, then making all your money from advertising – began to unravel, no one in the business had a way to fix it.
I remember when Sam Zell first bought the Tribune papers in 2007, some people (not all, by a long shot) thought he might Fix It. He had made a ton of money, so he must know something about business, and maybe a fresh set of eyes and a less hidebound approach would work. Then he started breaking all the good china, stamping out his cigars in the carpeting and insulting his employees, and it was clear that making a ton of money in one business doesn’t necessarily translate into universal business genius. Then the economy imploded, and that was the end of that.
In 2012, Warren Buffett made a splash with a series of newspaper purchases, which has continued into this year, and there seemed to be a giant sigh of relief throughout the industry. The Oracle of Omaha is widely described as a genius, having made shrewd investments across various industries for decades, so surely he must see the way out of the mess we’re in, or once hip deep in the mess he WILL see it. He must have a plan, right? … Well, he has said repeatedly he does not, and so far Mr. Buffett has cut well over 100 jobs (including mine). If his team has created any new jobs or found a new way to increase revenue, I missed it.
Also in 2012, another very rich man, Aaron Kushner, set journalistic hearts aflutter by doubling down on the old print model, beefing up the Orange County Register’s news staff and cutting off free Internet access. The company claims it is having success, though circulation is flat. As I wrote recently, until someone produces numbers, the jury has to be considered out on that experiment.
Now comes Bezos. He made a bazillion dollars on the Internet! The Internet is at the heart of the industry’s problems, so he MUST be the man to turn this whole thing around. Alan Mutter, generally a sound, pragmatic voice on news-business topics, makes a case for it.
I sure hope so, because I’m getting tired of watching this movie, and I can no longer tell whether its title is “Waiting for Superman,” “Waiting for Godot” or “Waiting for Guffman.”