Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday August 8h, 2013
INTRO: The Washington Post- which is among the few top newspapers in America, if not the world - has been sold to the founder of Amazon.com. This morning, commentator and veteran ABC News correspondent Barrie Dunsmore shares his thoughts on the significance of this sale.
TEXT: Chris Cillizza writes the Washington Post’s political blog- The Fix. This was his take on the surprise sale of his paper.
“The massive news… that the Washington Post is being sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has the entire media world - especially people like us who work here - wondering what it all means. Short answer. We don’t know. Long Answer: We don’t know.”
This remarkably candid admission is worth keeping in mind as Cillizza and dozens of other commentators have since proceeded to speculate on what it might mean.
Actually some of the things we know about the new owner, lend themselves to speculation.
Forty-nine year old Jeffry Bezos lives in the state of Washington - not D.C. He amassed a personal fortune estimated at $25 billion by revolutionizing book publishing: namely, digitalizing and selling books online. His Amazon.com now controls more than a quarter of the entire book business.
Politically, Bezos is described as a small “l” libertarian and an unsentimental business man. He has put up big money to support gay marriage and to defeat proposed higher taxes for the very rich. Amazon.com has led the way in refusing to collect state taxes which has deprived cash-starved state governments of millions of tax dollars, A law which would force Internet retailers to collect those state taxes was passed in the Senate but has been blocked in the House.
To buy this storied franchise, owned by the same family for 80 years, Besos is paying $250 million. That will not include the education publishing division and several major television stations.
For a newspaper once valued at two billion dollars that would seem to be a steal. For a paper losing $50 million a year, it may be overly generous.
Changes in the Washington Post are inevitable. But this sentence in the Post’s own story of the sale, got my attention.
“Besos will take the company private, meaning he will not have to report quarterly earnings to shareholders or be subjected to investor’s demands for ever-rising profits….as such he will be able to experiment with the paper without the pressure of showing an immediate return on investment.”
I find this point significant because in nearly all of the analyses of the decline and fall of newspapers and network television news, the culprit is identified as new technologies. I would certainly not dispute that digital technology, the Internet and social networks have profoundly changed the media landscape.
But there is another factor of importance. By the nineteen eighties, the news media had become huge money makers, making them prime targets for Wall Street takeovers. The new investors were not interested in journalism- only in its profits. Thus when profits began to shrink due in part to the new technologies, protecting the shareholder trumped quality journalism- every time.
So will multi- billionaires such as Jeffry Besos, who need not worry about investors, ultimately be the saviors of American journalism? My guess is probably not. But who knows.
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