Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

Nice column by the L.A. Times’ Michael Hiltzik about the breathless greeting every billionaire who buys a newspaper company receives. Summed up:

“Why do we keep getting taken in? Partially it’s the recognition that the economics of news-gathering are daunting in the modern age, solutions hard to come by, and the success of everything that’s been tried is still uncertain at best.”

I wrote something similar the summer of last year after Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, but I hadn’t revisited any of the cases I raised there. Hiltzik’s column saves me the work on Bezos (“The Washington Post has done superb work under its new owner,” he writes, and I would add that while it’s still early to judge the financial performance, things appear encouraging) and Aaron Kushner’s Orange County Register (“the Register is staggering financially”), plus adds a couple of new cases of billionaires jumping into journalism (though not newspapers).

But I still like my post’s ending better.

Read Full Post »

The news coming out of a series of meetings that the new owner of the Washington Post, Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos, had with the paper’s employees this week sounded both encouraging and discouraging to longtime news people like me.

It was encouraging because so much of it reinforced the values we have always been taught.

For instance, this was the first paragraph of the story by Post writers Paul Farhi and Craig Timberg about the meetings:

“Jeffrey P. Bezos had a simple bit of advice for the staff of the newspaper he’ll soon own: Put readers, not advertisers, first. Don’t write to impress each other. And above all, ‘Don’t be boring.’”

But what’s discouraging is just that: Almost everything that those listening to Bezos found worth repeating was so thoroughly familiar that it ought to have been unremarkable.

For instance, every bit of that Post paragraph above was pretty much from News Writing 101. Many reporters hate the idea that advertising is even IN the newspaper, so you hardly have to tell them not to put advertisers first, but getting a writer to think of his story from the perspective of a reader can take some work. And “Don’t be boring”? Get serious. That falls under the category of advice that my wife calls “Don’t shave the cat,” which means it’s advice you really shouldn’t need to hear in order to do the sensible thing. No editor ever chewed out a reporter for failing to load a story full of six-syllable words, math equations and technical explanations.

“What has been happening over the last several years can’t continue to happen,” Bezos said of seemingly never-ending cuts to news staff. “If every year we cut the newsroom a little more and a little more and a little more, we know where that ends.”

I have yet to hear anyone say otherwise, so while it’s nice to know that Bezos doesn’t think you can cut your way to prosperity, that thought by itself doesn’t mean he can get the revenue moving back in the right direction.

What the news industry hopes to see from Bezos eventually is a way for the business to thrive in the world of free and instant sharing on the Internet. The closest he got to that was this:

“Should it be as easy to buy the Washington Post as it is to buy diapers on Amazon? I think it should.”

Can’t argue with that. Many of the business practices at a great many newspapers are firmly rooted in the pre-Internet 20th century. But again, that’s hardly a novel realization. People have been talking about this in the industry for years, yet, just like the weather, no one does anything about it.

Then we get to a couple of things the Post reported Bezos saying that are just depressing to journalists.

“You have to figure out: How can we make the new thing? Because you have to acknowledge that the physical print business is in structural decline,” he said. “You can’t pretend that that’s not the case. You have to accept it and move forward. . . . The death knell for any enterprise is to glorify the past, no matter how good it was …”

If that’s the death knell, then we’re dead, baby, because journalists have been glorifying the past for decades – particularly at Pulitzer-winning metropolitan papers such as the Post.

“All businesses need to be forever young. . . . If your customer base ages with you as a company, you’re Woolworth’s.”

All I have to say about that is, welcome to Woolworth’s.

Actually, I’d rather end on a positive note, or as positive as any of Bezos’ comments struck me, which was this on what Bezos said his purchase of the Post shows about his outlook:

“If I thought it was hopeless I’d feel BAD for you guys. But I wouldn’t want to join you.”

So he’s an optimist. Which might just be the surest evidence possible that at heart he isn’t a journalist.

Read Full Post »

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.”

Read Full Post »