Jeff Bezos Pens Open Letter to Washington Post Staff

I'm still stunned by the news today that Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and publishing's chosen foe, has bought The Washington Post Company. And while I am like many others in wondering what he plans to do with the venerable newspaper, I think we can probably draw a few hints from the open letter that was published this afternoon on the Washington Post website.

In the letter he promises not to change the core values of the paper, but he also notes that changes will have to happen. Traditional revenue sources are drying up, the old ways are changing, and the newspaper needs to experiment with new ideas in order to prosper. Here's the letter, in full:

To the employees of The Washington Post:

You’ll have heard the news, and many of you will greet it with a degree of apprehension. When a single family owns a company for many decades, and when that family acts for all those decades in good faith, in a principled manner, in good times and in rough times, as stewards of important values – when that family has done such a good job – it is only natural to worry about change.

So, let me start with something critical. 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.

I want to say one last thing that’s really not about the paper or this change in ownership. I have had the great pleasure of getting to know Don very well over the last ten plus years. I do not know a finer man.

Sincerely,

Jeff Bezos

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

14 Comments

  1. Oh My God6 August, 2013

    A great date for Nate.
    Your hero controls the world.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder6 August, 2013

      Do you know what’s sad?

      It’s not that you are clearly a troll, but that you are a boring troll. You can’t even rise to the level of being annoying, offensive, or clever.

      Reply
  2. Oh My God6 August, 2013

    I was just thinking how wrong you are about everything.
    In the 80s the online world was dominated by Compuserve, Source, MCI, Prodigy, AppleLink.
    Where are they now?
    Same place kindle will be before you know it.
    Enjoy the moment because for your hero, it’s all down hill from here.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder6 August, 2013

      So you’re saying that because something will be replaced tomorrow we should not respect the accomplishment today? I don’t see what one has to do with the other.

      And I never said Bezos was my hero. That’s something you came up with in your trolling.

      Reply
  3. Oh My God6 August, 2013

    My interpretation is that Bezos is your hero.
    I am not on a mission to disrespect Amazon (maybe Kindle).
    I don’t agree with your narrative about epub3 (and Javascript) or Apple and its iBooks store (hate the authoring program though).

    Reply
  4. Ben6 August, 2013

    Bezos will not wait for changes to come to him. 250 million is nothing to him but if he runs the newspaper to the ground, you’ll lose more than just money. I get the feeling job cuts are coming soon and changes even sooner. Here’s a guy following Jobs footsteps closely when it comes to applying tech to every day lives. Bezos is one of those leaders that enjoys changing and solving problems. If nothing else, Bezos understands internet commerce well, this should help The Post to innovate beyond paywall system.

    Reply
    1. fjtorres6 August, 2013

      Bezos already said he is not changing the management team, direction, or culture.
      The WP was losing relatively little money *before* puting up the paywall two months ago so the odds are they are a breakeven operation right now.
      Odds are he’ll do nothing for at least a year.

      Reply
      1. flyingtoastr6 August, 2013

        How you can tell you didn’t read the article:

        “There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years. ”

        Then again, baldy is used to running companies that can’t turn a profit.

        Reply
        1. fjtorres6 August, 2013

          I’ve only read everything at the WP itself.
          (shrug)
          He’s leaving the current management in place so he’s not doing anything for a while. At least until he can see if Patty Stonesipher is interested in running it for him.

          Reply
  5. Paul6 August, 2013

    Technically he didn’t buy the Washington Post Company, he bought the newspapers and the printing press. Washington Post Company still owns the building, Slate, Foreign Policy magazine, and Kaplan.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder6 August, 2013

      Whoops. I misread the article. Thanks!

      Reply
  6. Kevin7 August, 2013

    Suppose he put all the Washington Post into a format that could be purchased for reading each day on the Kindle. Or simply sent out automatically with ads to all Kindle owners. Amazon and the WP, both partly owned by Bezos, would be very happy. Seems to me there is a lot of synergy possible with this deal.

    Reply
  7. Oh My God7 August, 2013

    This ought to put a spike into Holder’s Apple wet dream.

    Reply
  8. willem8 August, 2013

    Comment on this has been rather poor, and divides along the love/hate Amazon groups. The one exception I’ve found is the fascinating one by Noah Millman at:
    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/millman/will-jeff-bezos-destroy-the-village-in-order-to-save-it/

    Worth reading just for a plausible explanation of why newspapers are in trouble and what might possibly save them, if anything can.

    Reply

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