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It’s understandable that news of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post has been dominating the tech press today. After all, he’s a digital native taking on an old, and apparently struggling, media property.
There’s also been talk that staff are seriously unhappy about the buyout. That’s understandable given that it’s been in the hands of the same family since 1933 and its proud history of tearing down big corporate and political players.
Perhaps anticipating their angst, Bezos sent out a letter to the Post’s staff. Reassuring in tone, the letter assure staff that “values of The Post do not need changing” and that the “paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners”. Indeed, Bezos claims that he will try to channel the spirit of the Graham family, from whom he bought The Post for US$250-million.
So that’s what will stay the same, but what will change. Understandably, Bezos says the paper needs to adapt to the changing demands of the internet, especially given that it’s “shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs”.
What might make staff even more nervous though, and aid in the speculation around the deal, is the fact that Bezos offers no fixed path for how that adaptation might happen. “There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment”, he says.
Read the full letter below:
To the employees of The Washington Post:
You’ll have heard the news, and many of you will greet it with a degree of apprehension. When a single family owns a company for many decades, and when that family acts for all those decades in good faith, in a principled manner, in good times and in rough times, as stewards of important values – when that family has done such a good job – it is only natural to worry about change.
So, let me start with something critical. The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.
I won’t be leading The Washington Post day-to-day. I am happily living in “the other Washington” where I have a day job that I love. Besides that, The Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.
There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.
Journalism plays a critical role in a free society, and The Washington Post — as the hometown paper of the capital city of the United States — is especially important. I would highlight two kinds of courage the Grahams have shown as owners that I hope to channel. The first is the courage to say wait, be sure, slow down, get another source. Real people and their reputations, livelihoods and families are at stake. The second is the courage to say follow the story, no matter the cost. While I hope no one ever threatens to put one of my body parts through a wringer, if they do, thanks to Mrs. Graham’s example, I’ll be ready.
I want to say one last thing that’s really not about the paper or this change in ownership. I have had the great pleasure of getting to know Don very well over the last ten plus years. I do not know a finer man.