Off The Press
August 13, 2013
By Peter Clark
Frank Blethen, Jeff Bezos and the future of news
Stars aligned in inviting me to see The Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen speak at the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce lunch only two days after The Washington Post announced its purchase by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
Blethen gave an expert and impassioned speech regarding the family-owned daily The Times, the future of the newspaper industry and the state’s hurdles in improving the educational system. However, the event shined during the question and answer session.
To me, it was relevant on many levels. Along with the local implications including my appreciation of The Seattle Times (full disclosure: The Issaquah Press is owned by the company of the only daily left in the metropolitan area), hearing Blethen speak about the decision of another local powerhouse taking an active interest in my industry left my head spinning with speculation.
The future of media is, and should be, continually at the forefront of my mind. The production, the consumption, the format, the design, the expectation, the quality, etc. are all constantly whirling with new ideas and concerns erupting with every item I read/watch/hear/create. I have a lot of free time.
What was so exciting about the event wasn’t necessarily the questions that were asked or the answers that Blethen gave. Rather, it was the amount of interest that the other attendees had for what it could mean to the industry. I feel inundated with naysayers and doomsday pieces that constantly declare the end is nigh for all things media. It was uplifting to see general interest from those at the chamber, who spoke with genuine concern about how the news will evolve.
Personally, and Blethen spoke to this as well, I see the Bezos purchase of The Washington Post as a positive thing. It is heavily symbolic for the owner of the company responsible for the Kindle device to invest in the very artifact electronic reading is trying to replace.
The purchase means two things to me. It shows the value for media is still inherent in modern industries. Also, it means a greater focus on user experience for one of the nation’s top newspapers.
Long the hallmark of top Internet websites, Amazon has classically put great emphasis on how visitors to their space interact with the content. Of course, Web apps and newspapers’ online presence have strived to bring the same thoughtfulness, but there just hasn’t been the revenue to invest in such a changing idea.
Hopefully, with Bezos’ Post, there will come innovation on what to offer a shifting readership, how it is to be offered and how it will affect the industry as a whole. As evidenced by Blethen’s speech to a rapt crowd, I am not the only one watching how the future of media will shape itself.