Jeff Bezos Plays the Long Game—and It’s What Journalism Now Needs

Gannett opened this Washington area headquarters in 2001 and sold it in 2015.

Look at Amazon—Jeff Bezos still plays the long game 20 years after the IPO. The reason he can do that is that he was clear from day one about how he planned to manage the company. His letter to shareholders that first year had a “buckle-up” message: We’re going for revenue growth and customer happiness, not near-term profits. I’m sure it pushed away a certain class of investors, but it said to everyone working at Amazon that short-term thinking wouldn’t be rewarded.

Susan Lyne, a longtime editor and entrepreneur, in an interview with Hunter Walk.

When I worked for UPI in the 1960s, most of print journalism was playing the long game. I got to know many newspaper editors and almost all their papers were locally owned. Some of the papers were great, some not so great, but all were closely connected to their communities and their owners and editors wanted the newspaper to be good this year and next year, too.

Then came Gannett and Al Neuharth and their drive to buy hundreds of local papers, build the country’s biggest newspaper chain, and go to Wall Street with the promise that they could increase earnings by at least 15 percent every quarter.

The long game was replaced by the short game—editors were told do whatever is necessary to keep earnings growing by at least 15 percent every quarter. The strategy worked financially—Gannett stock in 2000 was worth ten times as much as when Neuharth started. The growth of Gannett and other chains was very good for stockholders and Wall Street, mostly terrible for local journalism.

Jeff Bezos, with Amazon’s help, is now playing the long game at the Washington Post, expanding the staff and budget in an attempt to pull ahead of the New York Times and be number one in digital journalism. It’s not winner take all but it bends that way.

Bezos seems to think that digital journalism is like digital retailing: Big is best—you have the greatest reach and can afford the best technology. Small can be good if you find the right niche. It’s tough if you’re caught in the middle, where Gannett now is.
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Al Neuharth died in 2013 at his home in Cocoa Beach, Florida, at the age of 89. In 1975, Neuharth built a mansion on the beach. It contained 11 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms.
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Also see Journalism Welcomes Jeff Bezos and All Those Other Rich Guys.

 

 

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