The Bezos plan for the news organization he has agreed to buy for $250 million centers on recreating the “daily ritual” of reading The Post as a bundle, not merely a series of individual stories. He was bullish about creating that experience on tablet computers, lukewarm about the prospects of doing so on the Web, and reassuring about the future of the old-fashioned newspaper itself — at least for the foreseeable future.
“People will buy a package,” Bezos said at one meeting of reporters and editors. “They will not pay for a story.”
Bezos seemed relaxed throughout two days of meetings, including a town-hall-style session in The Post’s community room before hundreds of journalists. He spoke without notes and joked often, punctuating some of his witticisms and self-deprecating comments with explosive laughter. He remained poised and good-humored from his perch on stage at the town-hall meeting despite fighting a balky sound system.
Bezos also repeatedly emphasized the importance of investigative journalism and said he was prepared to stand up to pressure in reporting stories that government officials might seek to suppress. He also said his political views were already in line with those of The Post’s editorial page and would defer to its editor, Fred Hiatt, on many matters.
“I don’t feel the need to have an opinion on every issue,” Bezos said. “I’m sure I don’t know much about things like Syria and foreign entanglements. I’m happy to let the experts opine on that.”
Among those in attendance at the newsroom-wide meeting were former executive editors Ben Bradlee and Leonard Downie Jr., former managing editor Robert Kaiser and star investigative reporter Bob Woodward, lending the event an intergenerational bridge to the newspaper’s storied past. (Donald E. Graham, whose family controlled the newspaper for 80 years, was not there, but his niece, Post publisher Katharine Weymouth, was in attendance).
After 90 minutes of hearing Bezos lay out his thoughts, Bradlee, 92, counted himself among those who came away with a positive first impression. “I thought he was original,” he said. “That’s what impressed me the most.”
Throughout the day, Bezos returned to his idea of using tablets as a key vehicle for reaching a new generation of readers. While saying The Post’s print editions will remain for many years, he said tablet computers could offer readers a look and feel similar to a traditional printed paper.
“You have to figure out: How can we make the new thing? Because you have to acknowledge that the physical print business is in structural decline,” he said. “You can’t pretend that that’s not the case. You have to accept it and move forward. . . . The death knell for any enterprise is to glorify the past, no matter how good it was, especially for an institution like The Washington Post, which has such a hallowed past.”