Jeff Bezos is spending around 1 percent of his net worth to buy up The Washington Post. Haters — and some defenders, too — are pointing out that Instagram sold for more money, supposedly proving that journalism is dead and this is all a horrible mistake for one of the world's richest entrepreneurs. But judging by his history, making a big, possibly money-losing investment, just because it seems cool, would not be at all out of character.
Take the time he plunged 14,000 feet beneath the ocean to retrieve one of NASA's biggest technological accomplishments — the F-1 engines that propelled Earth's first astronauts to the moon. His excitement at the discovery has been described as "child-like love and wonder."
Then there's the time he founded a company to improve private space travel — a firm that's received over $25 million in NASA funding for a next-generation space shuttle.
Bezos is also known for taking the long view on his investments. That's true for Amazon, certainly, whose losses he's defended not just as a non-bad thing, but as an unabashedly good thing. Or the time when he decided to build an enormous clock inside a remote mountain that ticks just once a year and chimes every millennium. The project may be frivolous from an economic standpoint. But part of Bezos' point is that we're all worth a lot more to each other when we're not fighting over the here and now.
Bezos has invested in a Canadian company chasing after the ultimate green-tech dream: fusion energy. He's taken an interest in the future of transportation. He's given money to MakerBot, the 3D printer company.
Investing in a newspaper might seem like a totally different endeavor. But the walls we put up between industries to talk about them as distinct activities don't really help us here. It's better to think of Bezos' investments as the collective product of a certain personal attitude.
Depending on who you ask, journalism is about exposing wrongdoing or being tough on wriggly politicians. But good journalism — particularly in the technology field — is as much about being curious about what's next and being open to how it might change things tomorrow. Curiosity and an appetite for newness are, in a certain sense, prerequisites for a job in journalism.
In short, Bezos is a man who focuses on the big picture, and he's willing to lose a lot in pursuit of important causes. That's not too different from the traits of a good journalist.