Don’t Blame Jeff Bezos for the Washington Post No Longer Being a Hometown Paper

By Jack Limpert

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Jeff Bezos: “The idea was to take the Post from being a great local paper and to transform it…”

Two days ago I put up a post, On Being Disconnected and No Longer Having a Hometown Paper; it said that the Washington Post no longer seems a hometown newspaper for those of us who live in Washington, D.C. I said the Post “was now much more an international digital newspaper and not so much a local newspaper.”

Yesterday Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was at a Post-sponsored technology conference called Transformers at the paper’s headquarters in downtown DC. He was interviewed by Post executive editor Marty Baron and Post media columnist Paul Farhi tweeted about it:

Paul Farhi ‏@farhip
‘Not an appropriate way for a presidential candidate to behave’: Bezos fires back at Donald Trump

Paul Farhi ‏@farhip
[email protected] on owning the @washingtonpost: “I have more confidence that our approach is correct.” More…

Paul Farhi ‏@farhip
[email protected]: “The idea was to take the Post from being a great local paper and to transform it into a great global and national paper.” More

Paul Farhi ‏@farhip
[email protected]: ” The internet has given us one new gift: Almost free global distribution.” More…

Paul Farhi ‏@farhip
[email protected]: [Now] “we can have hundreds of millions of readers and make very little money. And I’m happy to fund that.”

Paul Farhi ‏@farhip
Clarifying last quote: “We can have 100s of millions of readers and make very little $$…and I’m happy to fund that UNTIL WE GET THERE.”
Paul Farhi then wrote about the Bezos interview for today’s paper and its website but didn’t include in his coverage the tweet about Bezos taking the Post from being a great local paper and transforming it into a great global and national paper.

It is true that since Bezos bought the Post in 2013 the paper has seemed a little less local but it should be noted that the transformation of the Post away from being mostly local started in 1968 when Ben Bradlee took over as its executive editor. Bradlee had been at Newsweek and he was much more interested in the White House and national and international coverage than in local coverage. And then came Watergate and the ambition of every new Post hire was to be the next Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein.

Post owner Don Graham, who succeeded his mother as publisher in 1979, liked to say that the paper’s main mission continued to be publishing a great local newspaper but neither Bradlee nor his staff bought into that. Working in the paper’s Metro section was considered to be playing in the minor leagues with the goal to move up to the major leagues, the National section or overseas staff.

Bradlee’s successor in 1991 was Len Downie, who seemed more interested in local coverage but for readers the Post’s ambition clearly seemed to continue to be “We’re as important a national newspaper as the New York Times.”

In 2008 Downie was succeeded by Marcus Brauchli, who had worked much of his career overseas before becoming managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. Brauchli had never worked in Washington before joining the Post, and he then was replaced  at the end of 2012 by Baron, who had worked Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston before coming to Washington.

So it’s not fair to blame Bezos for the Post’s national and international ambitions and it no longer being a hometown paper. That change has been under way for almost 50 years. Bezos is only making it go faster.



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