- Jeff Bezos' radical vision for the Washington Post
- After years of shrinking ambition at The Washington Post, Jeff Bezos has the paper thinking global domination.
Michael Meyer, Columbia Journalism Review
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Andrew B. Myers
June 26, 2014 | In April, six months after her family sold the newspaper it had controlled for eight decades to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth walked onstage in the paper’s auditorium to reverse what had been the signature strategy of her six years at the helm. Since she was named publisher in February 2008, a year the newspaper division of The Washington Post Company declared a loss of $193 million, Weymouth had sought to codify the Post’s identity as a paper “For and about Washington.” While touted as a strategy to leverage the Post’s brand of national politics reporting in the digital era, “For and about Washington” was, in the grand tradition of Beltway wordsmithing, a phrase meant to put a positive spin on a period of retrenchment.
As a practical matter, “For and about Washington” meant the Post no longer covered stories beyond its circulation area unless they had a direct link to political Washington or a federal government interest. Exceptions were made for impossible-to-ignore events, like school shootings and other catastrophes, but all domestic bureaus were closed and correspondents were called home. Digital growth was certainly a goal, but the deeper logic of the strategy was that the relative value of a print subscriber trumped that of a digital subscriber. Print continued to provide the vast majority of the paper’s revenue, and newsroom employees were told repeatedly by Weymouth and her deputy, Post president and general manager Steve Hills, that preserving this revenue stream was the organization’s central priority and hope for continued solvency. Digital growth was encouraged to the extent that it fit with the goal of continuing to be the dominant news outlet in the DC region. In fact, the Post achieved impressive digital growth and a major increase in its national audience under this strategy. But it was all achieved under the banner of narrowing ambitions, and no amount of Pulitzer Prizes or popular new blogs or experimental infusions of digital stem cells could make up for this paradox.
Michael Meyer is a Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) staff writer.
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