You probably read that Amazon's forward-thinking founder Jeff Bezos has bought an artifact of another era, the Washington Post newspaper. And you probably read the opinions of too many cynical and curiously unimaginative bloviating columnists who weighed in on the purchase, immediately seeing the move as a way for Bezos to peddle influence in Washington.
How naïve. As if newspapers have influence anymore, anywhere. Money talks in Washington, not words. If Bezos wanted influence he could have used the reported $250 million he paid for the newspaper to buy one or two lobbyists.
What Bezos has, as the New York Times correctly remarked in an article today, is an ability to think for the long-term. And Bezos will undoubtedly find ways to bring innovation to the staid and stolid world of newspapers, where online videos featuring camera-unready reporters represent something new.
Now, thinking for the long-term counts as a disruptive quality in today's world of quarterly earnings reports, weekend movie grosses, overnight television ratings and instant gratification or disappointment. Wall Street and its analysts want results fast, and doesn't care for the future. The public has been trained to consider the first-week's sales of books or movies or anything really the mark of success or failure.
But Bezos has always placed long-term goals over short-term profits (and his thinking has paid off).
He has probably thought about how he might shape the way news is delivered today, just as he helped propel e-books (and the e-reader) into the worldwide phenomena they've become. We can't read his mind, but he's certainly not going to do the expected.
I'm eager to see what he's going to try to accomplish. One of my colleagues worked for a long time at newspapers, and tells me that newspapers are very conservative (even liberal newspapers).
Consider the feathers ruffled at, again, the New York Times, when Nate Silver's impressive analysis of national polls (in his popular Five Thirty-Eight column) proved far more accurate than the tedious narratives of political reporters who preferred to tell an ultimately fallacious story about a presidential election than actually give us the actual news about who was winning.
Newspaper editors still think that newspaper readers want story rather than reality. (Silver recently departed for ESPN and ABC; the reporters who resented his new way of analyzing what was always there waiting to be interpreted by someone with clear-eyes can doubtless rest easy as the next elections roll in and they revert to their own tired analyses of received wisdom regarding candidates.)
Bezos hasn't revealed what he's going to do, but he's surely not going to sit idle, even if he'll leave the newsgathering to the news-gatherers, and offer the long-term view, the technical know-how and the imagination that too many newspapers, and journalists, lack.