Tomorrow, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos gets to handle his newest toy: The Washington Post, which he purchased for $250 million last month. On Wednesday, the billionaire (24 times over) will meet with staffers there for the first time since 1999; but before doing so, Bezos spoke to Post media reporter Paul Farhi in his first interview since the purchase, outlining his ambitions for the paper.
Many have wondered why Bezos, a pioneer of the digital world, would double back into print journalism. It is clear from his interview — conducted over the phone on Friday while Bezos was in Seattle — that the self-described "genetic optimist" sees The Post as a valuable brand in desperate need of innovation. While his exact plans are unclear, his ambitions are clearly high:
If we figure out a new golden era at The Post . . . that will be due to the ingenuity and inventiveness and experimentation of the team at The Post. I’ll be there with advice from a distance. If we solve that problem, I won’t deserve credit for it.
Farhi writes elsewhere that "Bezos intends to keep his 'day job' as chairman and chief executive of Amazon and will continue living in Seattle." That may calm critics who fear that the paper, owned by the Graham family for the last eight decades, will be hijacked by Bezos's own vision.
Nevertheless, The Post will clearly have to evolve into a more digitally aggressive product. As Farhi reports,
Although he said he reads The Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal regularly, Bezos didn’t grow up immersed in newspapers or dreaming of being involved with one. His “love affair,” he said, has always been with “the printed word in all its forms.”...“The key thing about a book is that you lose yourself in the author’s world,” Bezos said. “Great writers create an alternative world. It doesn’t matter if you enter that world” via a digital or printed source.
Increasingly, those forms involve swipes of the finger, not folds of an inky page. Those who charge Bezos with having destroyed traditional book publishing may find little solace in his turn to journalism. He did, however, display a knowledge of The Post's recent identity crisis, as it has cut its bureaus and focused more on the Beltway and its immediate environs. Wondered Bezos of The Post, "Is it local? Or national? Is it something new?"
What that "something new" may be, only Bezos knows.
Photos: Reed Saxon/AP; Evan Vucci; AP