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Making Sense of Bezos' Purchase of the Washington Post

Aug 12, 2013

It's not often that the news media is shocked by a story about its own business.

Credit A.P.

Journalists talk shop - a lot.

There is no shortage of speculation about the future of this TV chain or that newspaper.

But nobody saw the sale of the "Washington Post" to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos coming.

"I got the alert on my phone and I actually thought there had been an error," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense-Making Project. "Nobody even knew the Washington Post was for sale."

But it was. And it was purchased by a true man of the digital age. Bezo's company, Amazon, has figured out a way to sell just about everything - from books to food - either through or by the internet.

For her part, McBride said she hopes Bezos becomes a hands-on owner of the Washington Post.

"I hope he really gets in there and shakes things up," McBride said. "In journalism we have been trying to crack this nut for a long time. We know journalism is critical to democracy and crucial to American society, but we can't sustain it economically the way we used to sustain it. So I hope that someone like Bezos can come in and say, 'What if we tried this?'"

And, what about potential downsides to a non-journalist, businessman owner of a major American newspaper like the Washington Post?

McBride pointed out that, "this is the newspaper in the nation's capital. And Bezos has a lot of concerns about how taxation works on sales and different policies on the internet - public policies that are controlled, ultimately, by the President and Congress. I think some people are worried that he will use the paper as an arm to lobby public policy. He's a good businessman and that would be so bad for business that I can't imagine he would do that. Plus, everybody's going to be watching him and at the very hint of that they would just slam him."