Below is an edited excerpt of a conversation on Byers’s thoughts on the sale of The Washington Post and what is to come for the news industry.
You look at Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post, you look at Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder, buying the New Republic, what it signals, for me anyway, is the kind of “Gilded Age’s major beneficiaries” (a phrase written by James Fallows, The Atlantic) primarily coming out of greater Silicon Valley, not just Silicon Valley, the tech guys of that region and San Francisco and Seattle, where Bezos is based.
Investing in these old-media companies that have these iconic and venerable brands like The Post and the New Republic, they are the only ones with the amount of money that can afford to sustain them and take risks.
The difference from other wealthy businessmen who have bought up newspapers in the past, these guys seem to be really interested in experimenting and toying with seeing how you can adapt a brand like this. How you can make it digital first. And they seem to really care about those properties — they are not coming in and wanting to undercut the entire newspaper with advertisements to supper the other ventures they have.
There is a real sense of engagement and goodwill on the part of these guys.
[It’s] extraordinarily exciting to see if they can apply this sort of whiz-kid mentality to these old types of publications.
One point that has been made is that while guys like Jeff Bezos have demonstrated enormous success in playing an old game with new rules, it would be totally unwise to assume that a guy like Bezos is a magician and he’ll figure this all out, and we’ll wake up six months from now and The Post will be leading the frontier of digital journalism.
What I do think is that the newspaper industry and media people as a general rule tend to be very wedded to the 20th century model. They are not really thinking about news consumers and about how digital journalism works in terms of the Internet. They are thinking very much in terms of the paper.
The articles feel like they need to be a certain length, the format in which it is laid out and delivered to consumers is not all that innovative.
What these guys bring to the table is completely rethinking the way this is laid out.
It is hard to think of anybody who is better positioned to do that, or make that experiment happen.