Bezos’s ownership of the Post shouldn’t be controversial

Graphic by Ayomi Wolff

Shirah Lister

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When Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, bought The Washington Post in 2013, a lot of people expected the worst. They questioned how a businessman with no prior reporting experience could manage to run a newspaper. But in fact, the newspaper has flourished ever since. It turns out that when an owner has money to spend on a newspaper, the paper gets better. Who would have thought?

Before Bezos bought The Washington Post, the paper was struggling financially. They were cutting the reporting staff and reducing the amount of money they put in retirement accounts. Foreign bureaus had been cut to almost nothing. Then, Bezos, on an impulse buy, turned the paper around.

In that sense, he proved to be the ablest of bosses. Bezos has a degree in computer science and has provided The Washington Post with the much-needed strategy on how to compete in the media-based economy. Despite being owned by Bezos, The Washington Post’s business journalists have not shied away from writing critical articles about Amazon.

The public doesn’t know exactly the profit The Washington Post is making because it’s now owned by a privately-held company. However, we do know that the paper has expanded and increased their number of subscriptions and has not engaged in any large layoffs, similar to what happened before Bezos took over. The fact that Bezos isn’t focused on the bottom line—profits from The Washington Post—no doubt helps.

Bezos is certainly not the first wealthy person to own a media company. For example, Michael Bloomberg, the former two-time mayor of New York, owns Bloomberg News. Bloomberg News was still able to cover New York politics, because there is a division between the owner and the news it produces. As much as owners may want to interfere, the credibility of their news organization depends on them building a wall between the coverage and the bias of being the owner.

For many of these wealthy owners, this is not too difficult. They have huge businesses to run elsewhere that take up their full attention, as is the case with Bezos and Amazon. The fact is, as any good business person knows, the key to success is not micromanaging.

In the new media environment, we should encourage billionaires to support and invest in independent media. You don’t need to be a journalist to own a paper; you need to know how to hire the right people to run a paper. And Bezos has succeeded at that.