Monday, July 24, 2023

Media: With The Washington Post On Track To Lose $100 Million This Year, Jeff Bezos Is Getting More Hands-On

They need Donald Trump. As do the New York Times Fox, CNN, most of the second and third tier newspapers and quite a few websites, bloggers and substacks.

From the New York Times, July 22:

A Decade Ago, Jeff Bezos Bought a Newspaper. Now He’s Paying Attention to It Again.

During his tenure as executive editor at The Washington Post, Martin Baron ran into a persistent problem.

Jeff Bezos had purchased The Post for $250 million in 2013, less than a year after Mr. Baron had taken over. Mr. Bezos, who arrived at media ownership after founding Amazon and remaking online shopping, wanted his top editor to transform the newspaper from a regional news organization into a truly global one.

But Mr. Bezos, whose representatives kept an eye on the budget, didn’t believe The Post needed to add many new editors to accomplish that task. Reporters were classified as “direct” employees and editors as “indirect” — and his preference was to keep the “indirect” numbers down.

So, Mr. Baron came up with a workaround, according to his coming memoir.

“To avoid setting off alarms up the line, my deputies and I would strip the word ‘editor’ from proposed new positions whenever possible,” Mr. Baron writes. “‘Analyst’ or ‘strategist’ were among the limited set of workarounds.”

These days, Mr. Bezos knows more about the news business. And in recent months, he has become more involved with The Post’s operations, stepping in as staff morale cratered and the business struggled.

Mr. Bezos has said he wants The Post to be profitable, but it is unlikely to reach that target this year.

The Post is on a pace to lose about $100 million in 2023, according to two people with knowledge of the company’s finances; two other people briefed on the situation said the company was expecting to miss its forecasts for ad revenue this year. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal financial matters. The Post has struggled to increase the number of its paying customers since the 2020 election, when its digital subscriptions peaked at three million. It now has around 2.5 million.

A spokesperson for Mr. Bezos declined to make him available for an interview. Patty Stonesifer, The Post’s interim chief executive, said Mr. Bezos was happy with “every dollar invested” in the company. One person familiar with Mr. Bezos’ plans said The Post had planned for 2023 to be a “year for investment.”

“I’m very enthusiastic about what we can do here at The Washington Post in the decade ahead,” Ms. Stonesifer said in a statement. “Jeff’s second decade of ownership of The Post should be even more exciting.”

Mr. Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post ended decades of ownership by the Graham family — which had steered the paper through its legendary coverage of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers — and signified a new era of expansion under one of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs. In a meeting with staff shortly after his purchase, Mr. Bezos encouraged Post employees to experiment digitally, taking advantage of the “gifts of the internet,” such as global reach, that had made Amazon a stunning success. He provided ample financial support to expand the newsroom.

Mr. Bezos weighed in on product decisions and hired Fred Ryan, former chief executive of Politico, to serve as publisher to replace Katharine Weymouth, a scion of the Graham family. He kept Mr. Baron in place as The Post’s top editor until his retirement in 2021, frequently referring to him as the best journalism tutor an owner could ask for. He helped choose Sally Buzbee as the successor to Mr. Baron, inviting her to his home in Washington’s upscale Kalorama neighborhood.

But after an initial surge of interest that lasted several years, and following his decision to step down as Amazon’s chief executive, Mr. Bezos receded somewhat at The Post, according to two people familiar with his interactions with the newsroom.

That changed in January, after Ms. Buzbee spoke with Mr. Bezos and conveyed an urgent message: Morale was low at The Post. Much of it, she said, stemmed from missteps by the newspaper’s chief business executive, Mr. Ryan, according to two people familiar with her remarks....