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.


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.


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

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | 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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23 Responses to “Amazon’s Bezos buys Washington Post, better he than Koch”

  1. Skycat says:

    Publishing Judy Miller’s articles was one of the worst transgressions in journalistic history and paved the way for all the distrust we have in mainstream media — even from an institution purportedly to the left of center. It slippery-sloped us into the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and other abuses of the rights we took for granted.

  2. nicho says:

    The “downer trolls” are out in force today.

  3. LosGatosCA says:

    they would end up at least exposed to the ads they not normally have paid attention to if there was nothing of interest on the page. Thus in pursuit of “Dick Tracy” or “Li’l Abner” they ended up responding to some ads they would have never seen.


  4. According to Wikipedia (,_Sera_(Whatever_Will_Be,_Will_Be ) John’s right. Che sarà is a Jose Feliciano song.

  5. So tumblr is worth a billion and the WP is worth a quarter of that…

  6. ArthurH says:

    It all depends which wealthy people buy them. Many have a hands-off approach that allows the journalistic professionals produce the content, tone and editorial policies that they feel best reflect the community. In this category one can even include Rush Limbaugh’s Dad who for years owned the Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau, MO, and made no demands on the staff other than twice a year running an editorial requesting that the surrounding Cape County revert to being a “dry” county after voters voted it “wet” in 1961. The wealthy fellow who acquired the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, AZ, actually beefed up the paper’s journalism and for a while the paper produced many exposees. This lasted until the paper documented that the well-to-do were looting a state fund intended to helped exceptional but disadvantaged students attend better private school to free them of paying the tuitions they already could afford. Some of the abusers were advertisers in the Tribune and they organized a boycott that hurt the paper financially and prompted the owner to sell the paper. The worst example might be when Rupert Murdoch bought the Chicago Sun-Times and turned the progressive tabloid with a middle class audience into a down-scale right-wing tabloid like he published in London. Circulation plummeted as the middle class canceled their subscriptions and few lower class people replaced them. Not even frequent WINGO games could get them. Murdoch dumped the ruins on a former employee four years later.

  7. Steven says:

    Who is complaining about your cat videos??? I love the videos you post here. That’s one thing I enjoy so much about your blog (and Andrew Sullivan’s): it’s not always the frustrating and depressing news of the day. There are often much-needed laughs or tears, and I for one appreciate the approach. Besides, anyone complaining about cat videos needs to have their Internet access revoked. Funny cats RULE the internet!

  8. ArthurH says:

    Actually the business model LosGatosCA proposed was used by many newspapers not to many years ago. Prior to the 1960s, many papers scattered the comic strips throughout their pages. So as readers looked for their favorites (the strips were never printed on the same page every day) they would end up at least reading the headlines of articles they not normally have paid attention to if there was only type on the page. Thus in pursuit of “Dick Tracy” or “Li’l Abner” they ended up better informed.

  9. Is it though? I always thought it was incorrect spanish, lo que sera sera? I mean, I speak Italian ;) But was it really Italian that they bastardized and not spanish?

  10. I’d tend to agree with you. While I still think Bezos saving the Post is better than Koch saving the Post, I also agree that the larger corporate ownership issue is a legitimate concern.

  11. So that means folks will stop complaining about our cat videos? ;-)

  12. Houndentenor says:

    Traditional media died when they replaced reporters with stenographers. Judy Miller destroyed my opinion of the New York Times. And there are dozens like her at all the major papers. They rely on sources which are just using them to get their spin and lies into print and then claim that it’s legitimate. There’s almost no real journalism left in this country so it’s not as if anyone is getting less information when a newspaper folds. it’s their own fault that people aren’t reading. There’s no actual news in our news any more.

  13. Monoceros Forth says:

    Why the heck is this comment being down-rated? Seems pretty reasonable to me.

  14. Monoceros Forth says:

    Meh. It just seems part of Amazon’s overall goal of being the central marketplace for everything. I worked there once (just for five months, then stupidly quit) back in 2001 and was told that what they wanted was ultimately to become the first place that people on the Web went to when they wanted to buy any sort of product. Now Amazon’s extending that same business model to intangible products such as entertainment and now news.

  15. Monoceros Forth says:

    Television’s best years are fifty years gone already…

    I disagree strenuously. Looking over a list of ’60s television shows I see…well, mostly shows I’ve never seen, but also shows that I have seen and were utter rubbish, and also shows that were considered to be some of the best TV had to offer but which have aged very poorly (I’ll put Twilight Zone on that list, for example.) Arguably the worst of television has gotten much worse than it was in the ’60s but I contend that the best of television has gotten better, with a sophistication of writing and also of technical skill (especially in photography and composition of shots) that has improved markedly.

  16. LosGatosCA says:

    I think news media outlets need to model themselves like grocery stores.

    Pick some traffic generating loss leaders, like milk, put it at the back of the store, entice the traffic to buy higher profitability items as they walk back to the loss leaders and figure out how to make the whole thing work on high turnover at low average margins – under 2%.

    Easier said than done, obviously.

    But packaging Hiatt and the op Ed crew overall and calling it filet mignon and pricing it accordingly is a pretty laughable business model. Same for the NY Times.

  17. samizdat says:

    Took the words right out of my mouth.

  18. nicho says:

    Does it matter which member of tne corporatocracy owns the CIA Daily Gazette?

  19. LosGatosCA says:

    The fundamental problem with ‘traditional’ media is that their non-value proposition was exposed.

    On the supply side: Most media content is either propaganda (unfounded personal opinion meant to confuse the reader for a purpose) or entertainment. Unfortunately, traditional media tried to mask that fact by presenting themselves as authoritative sources of truth. The Internet exposed this cognitive dissonance irreconcilably. ESPN does great in all media formats. It’s all entertainment all the time with mass appeal and a brand that delivers to viewer/reader expectations.

    On the demand side: Google analytics and ads has exposed how worthless lots of advertising actually has been. Advertising unaccountability funded lots of people’s income that companies now realize was simply wasteful.

    Lots of other industries, like stock brokers, have been exposed over many decades for the same lack of value and their margins driven done to almost just the variable cost to deliver being covered. However, it’s still clear what you get from eTrade for example.

    The post-Internet era of media has made it clear that the editorial page content of say the a washington Post is no better informed about issues and has no better professional judgment than a loud mouth retired Philadelphia plumber who has moved to Florida and complains about the gubbermint full-time.

    There’s simply no sustainable market for content of that caliber at prices needed to provide the income to support a media property like the Washington Post.

    So two choices – figure out how to improve the content quality that matches a market/audience need at an affordable price that sustains the provider or go out of business. Nate Silver did the former, the Graham family did the latter. Bezos clearly thinks he has a chance to do the former and has simply bought a brand that he thinks is worth experimenting with to find out if he’s right.

    I think Bezos is right, but I doubt he expects to restore old media values in a new Internet environment. The new Washington Post is no more likely to be friendly to traditional media than Amazon was to mom and pop retail or Borders.

  20. cole3244 says:

    the more info the better as with competition, is this better than the koch bros only time will tell, i certainly hope so, two wash times are not needed.

  21. Indigo says:

    Radio was a good thing, Television’s best years are fifty years gone already, and the best of Cyberspace has already moved to the Valley of Porn. No media is exempt from ups and downs and right now, everything’s down. IMHO.

  22. Isaac says:

    I don’t care who the billionaire is that purchases media. The basic idea that our media, or most of it, is corporate controlled is disgusting. This means they all have interests in making money before reporting the news. How many stories do you think WaPo is going to run regarding the horrible working conditions at Amazon warehouses? Probably none. So before we talk about who our favorite billionaire is let us try to focus on the fact that corporations have more of an interest in making money than actual reporting.

  23. Timothy says:

    It’s actually “Che sarà, sarà,” although frequently non-Italians — Greeks, for example — reverse the accents and change a couple vowels. :-)

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