When I read that Jeff Bezos had bought the venerable Washington Post newspaper from the Graham family in the same week that John Henry, owner of the Red Sox, bought the Boston Globe, it definitely got my attention.
© 2013: The Washington Post
I could (and probably should) write about how Bezos’ instincts for interactive marketing and content delivery will help the Post continue its evolution into the digital age. But I won’t. What interests me more about this particular acquisition is the possibility of Bezos taking on our broken political processes by owning the ink in D.C. If Jeff Bezos had bought a newspaper in Seattle, I would have considered it the act of a patron of journalism. But I’m hoping that there’s more to it than that.
Jeff Bezos, BusinessInsider
Larry Lessig, © NPR
I believe that Jeff Bezos and Larry Lessig travel in the same circles. They both attended the Bilderberg Group Conference in June 2013. They are both very smart men, and I think they both care about the future of our country. After revolutionizing the legal infrastructure for intellectual property through Creative Commons, Larry Lessig flirted briefly with the idea of running for Congress. But when he looked into it and realized that our Congress people spend 70 percent of their time dialing for dollars, he decided to do something else: Change Congress. Larry Lessig’s current vehicle for getting money out of politics is a grass roots organization called Rootstrikers.org. Its mission is to strike at the root of corruption by electing only congress people who do not take money or advertising from PACs or from large corporations. Lessig has written a number of useful books on this topic—all available thru Amazon.com: One Way Forward: The Outsider’s Guide to Fixing the Republic, and LesterLand: The Corruption of Congress and How to End It. And, Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It.
Another useful way to add transparency to politics is to shed light on the amount of money donated to each Congressperson by different special interest groups and corporations.
I am perhaps naively hopeful that, under Jeff Bezos’ leadership, the Washington Post will do an even better job of shining a light on the corruption that is systematically embedded in our national politics and help Larry Lessig and the many others who are trying to get money out of Congress.
Jeff Bezos has not said that he’ll tamper with the editorial policy of the paper. Far from it. Here is what he has said (in his letter to Washington Post employees):
“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.”
~ Jeff Bezos, The Washington Post, August 5, 2013