Amazon’s Bezos buys Washington Post, better he than Koch

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post.  There’s understandably a lot of chatter about what this “means.”  Well, for starters, it means the Washington Post will live to see, and fight, another day, and that’s a good thing.

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Media in America is in trouble.  Things started going (more?) downhill after September 11, when the dual hit of the attacks, their impact on the economy, and the already-ongoing recession hit the media hard.  Things started to rebound towards the latter part of the decade, as Web readership grew and online advertising revenues increased, but then the confluence of a lot of factors, including the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing [depression] destroyed advertising budgets and took an already-anemic industry and kicked it into the grave.

I’ve written before about AMERICAblog’s own microcosm of the media world.  2008 was my best year ever, in terms of ad income, then the carpet got pulled out from under us.  Revenue in 2009 was 25% of what it was the year before, and while it’s come back somewhat, we’re still probably at half, at best, of what we pulled in in 2008.  Fortunately, I’ve a paid staff of one, me (simply because I couldn’t afford to hire anyone else), but having three-quarters of your budget ripped away is not without pain.  And our experience is not unique.  There’s a reason you keep hearing about media entities cutting back, and laying off staff.  All is not well in media-land.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos (photo by Steve Jurvetson)

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post (photo by Steve Jurvetson)

Some argue that the media’s struggles are simply “progress.”  The first wheel, the first engine, the first assembly line, the first radio, the first movie, the first television, and the first VCR all were cause for excitement and fear.  Excitement about what new efficiencies the discovery might bring, and fear about what old-school industry just received a stake to the heart.

Don’t get me wrong, the Internet has been amazing.  I asked my dad, who’s an engineer, and in his 80s, a few years back as to just how big a change, an advancement, the Internet was, in view of what he’d seen in his lifetime.  He felt it was huge, one of the biggest.  But the Internet definitely comes with mixed reviews.

While the Net has empowered would-be journalists and activists around the world, it’s also created a bit of a cacophony of content.  (I’ve written before about the ensuing watering down of activism when “anyone” can be an “activist.”) Too much free-media means no real media can survive long term.   The kid in his basement blogging for fun can continue forever.  While someone trying to write for a living, to pay his mortgage and feed his family, can’t continue for long, unless he’s being paid, well.  And while a lot of “free” blogging produces good content, I’m not sure that content is enough on its own.

First of all, I think far too many people fail to understand who blogs “for free.”  Most of the best bloggers I know do not blog for free, simply because they can’t afford to.  Who has the luxury of working 14 hour days (and many of us do) unpaid?  We all have mortgages and doctor bills and families and more.  And I’ve just never believed that part-time blogging – which is more sustainable, so long as it’s simply done as a party-time hobby – can fill the void left behind by the economic failure of major media.

Take Glenn Greenwald.  “Blogger” Glenn has done an amazing job on the Snowden story.  But who’s supporting Glenn in this effort, who paid his way to Hong Kong to meet Snowden in private in order to break this huge and ongoing story?  The Guardian.  A large corporate media entity.  Glenn doesn’t prove that we no longer need the media, on the contrary. It’s “the media” that permitted Glenn the financial security, and flexibility, to blog, and to blog well.

I’ve always believed that blogging and traditional media can have a symbiotic relationship.  Though of late, I think the entire thing has gotten more parasitic, or worse.  All the media entities, big and small, that the Internet created are stretching already-thinning advertising dollars even thinner.  And that’s just not a sustainable model for the future.

And while the more hopeful among us say “que será será”, it’s the dawn of a new age, video killed the radio star (and good riddance), and no one should fear that new-fangled thing called the “assembly line,” I’d be feeling a lot more comfortable about the future of media if I could actually see what’s coming next.  With the assembly line, I knew what was coming next.  With the Internet’s impact on media, “next” is looking like a void, a world with far less accountability.  And that tends to favor those who lie the most – in our case, the Republicans.

Yes, with the assembly line people may have worried about workers losing their jobs, but we also could envision factory output exploding and prices for consumer goods dropping.  We could see real tangible benefits to offset the pain.  I’m still trying to figure out where the good comes from when traditional media dies.  So when I see billionaires like Jeff Bezos, someone I trust far more than the Koch Brothers, buying influential and necessary media outlets like the Washington Post, my initial reaction is one of trepidation mixed with relief.

Yours?

PS Of course, the bigger story here might be that the Washington Post went for less ($250m) than the Huffington Post ($315m).


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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