I sometimes struggle to find a topic for my blog each week. Okay, in truth I usually struggle. At first, anyway. It’s not that I don’t have things to say. I’ve never been accused of being the quiet type. But trying to figure out what I have in my head that you might want to read about… well, find me a writer who doesn’t struggle with that.
So this week, as I pondered my next blog, I came back to three things I’d read last week: Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post, comments on my Facebook page about said news, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog discussing, in small part, that same topic.
As a journalist, my first reaction to the news that Jeff Bezos was buying The Washington Post was one of concern. I commented as such on Facebook. After all, I’ve talked about my concerns for the journalism industry in this very blog in the past. Bezos is not a journalist. He’s never been a journalist. The Washington Post is known for its groundbreaking coverage, its journalistic ethics. How would a businessman like Bezos change all that? I mean, moguls buying newspapers is nothing new. But an Internet mogul? How would that change things?
In response to my Facebook post, writer and friend J. Steven York asked me the question, “Who COULD buy the Post that you’d WANT to buy the Post?”
Hmmm. Very difficult question for me to answer. See, when it comes to journalism, I don’t want anyone mucking around with the purity of the process. (Or what should be the purity of the process, anyway, but often isn’t these days.) But I also recognize that reporters and everyone else who works for a newspaper would actually like to be able to make a living (paltry, usually, granted—you don’t go into journalism for the money—, but a living). But to be able to sustain itself, a newspaper needs to make money somehow.
Used to be, that somehow was by selling advertising. But there were very clear rules about the advertising side of the business (the profit earners) influencing the news side of the business (the biggest expense aside from the printing costs themselves). When ad sales started to fall of because of the Internet and sites like Craigslist (seriously, why was that not invented by a newspaper???), the newspaper industry did what traditional publishing is so good at—denial. When that didn’t work, there was a lot of discussion about what could be done to right the ship. And some more discussion. And some more. A few experiments here, a conference there. But the traditional publishing industry typically moves slowly. The Internet does not.
Hence the current state of upheaval.
Getting back to Steve’s question, though, who do I think can solve print newspaper’s problem? Well, frankly, Jeff Bezos might stand a better shot than most. As stated in the Post article and quoted in Kris’ blog, “[Bezos] told Fortune magazine last year, “The three big ideas at Amazon are long-term thinking, customer obsession, and willingness to invent.”
Well, those aren’t bad ideals for a newspaper, either. Long-term thinking isn’t about squeezing every dime out of a product we can right now, the future (and the quality) be damned. Customer obsession in journalism is balancing immediacy with ethical reporting, and giving the reader what they need to know, not just what they want to read. And willingness to invent will be crucial to figuring out how to deliver the news in a format that people want and need.
So, I’ve decided to embrace Bezos’ purchase. (Not that he needs my approval.) I’ve decided that if anyone stands a chance at revolutionizing the newspaper industry, it’s him. I only hope he listens to the journalists as he does so.
After all, that’s how we run things here at WMG, and it’s working for us. We might not be reporting the news, but I certainly hope you’ll agree that we’re helping enrich our readers’ lives. We have taken a long-term approach to building this company. We are indeed obsessed with our customers and delivering you great fiction (and nonfiction). And we are absolutely willing to be inventive.
So, keep watching. You never know what we’ll come up with next in this ever-changing world of publishing.
But I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Allyson Longueira is the publisher and CEO of WMG Publishing. She is an award-winning writer, editor and designer.