Culture is future » Innovation and digital


Contribution : "Citizen Bezos and Doctor Jeff" by David Lacombled

Will Jeff Bezos (Amazon) who just acquired the Washington Post succeed in combining the new economy methods and the press requirements? Is that an unnatural association or a new laboratory for the press of tomorrow?

It sounded like thunder clap right in the middle of a mild summer. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, has offered himself the Washington Post, crown of the American press, held by the same family for more than 80 years, for $250 billion. Inevitably a lot has been written – on a piece of paper of on a computer keyboard.

Surprised and subjugated, some have immediately burst their tune on the digital success story. When the founder of the most successful e-commerce website can buy the Washington Post, a journalism institution and the temple of the American investigation – just remember the Watergate or All the President’s men - with only 1% of his private fortune, it is such a slap for the “old journalism”!

Others were offended that such a symbol for the press and for the freedom of speech –indeed, the Watergate and All the President’s men! – had fallen into the hands of a predator of the book trade. The one who is accused of dismantling the edition trade wherever he goes buys out the very symbol of triumphant journalism. What a crime of lèse-majesté!

Others asked themselves what was the true strategy Bezos was following. Indeed, what was he looking for, this 49 years-old man, with over a $25 trillion wealth, in this newspaper which may be famous but which has been largely running out of steam lately, and unprofitable? Bezos remained unclear by asserting it was only a personal investment and that he didn’t want to intrude into the newspaper’s business; however, it is difficult to believe this will not affect Amazon’s strategy. Just as the recent buying of GoodReads – a readers’ social network – may respond the need for socialization of his e-commerce website, buying the Post could allow Jeff Bezos’ group to look more institutional.

Wait and see. But the more important matter, by far, is to know if the “new economy / journalistic institution” transplant will succeed. In any case, this has nothing to do, as some may have said, with a square peg in a round hole. The press has been one of the first trades to start a digital reconversion 20 years ago. Digital technology responded to the need for information reactivity and immediacy which allowed reducing some fixed costs. Then again, the press did not wait for the web to enter a long lasting crisis since the beginning of the seventies.

And Jeff Bezos’ first statement, a month after the buying, had quite a comforting impact. In his view, the press has to come back urgently to the reader as the first consumer of a headline and stop considering advertisers as their first consumers, accounting on the excesses such a strategy can cause. It is just the same profession of faith that any journalist caring about his ethics’ protection can swear in.

A first comforting statement in a situation where, more than ever, a need of reference points is truly felt by the readers. A need of strong brands, bondsmen of the information by perpetuating their know-how of information verification, crossing and contextualization … for the readers.

From that settling down point that represents the reader, it is important to make the press formats evolve and especially compared to all the riches that could bring the digital.

Until now, newspapers were adapting themselves to the digital waning their traditional material or expanding it with a digital experience (Le Figaro, Le Monde,…), they changed their model considering the paper material as a supplement of their digital offer (La Tribune), or they stopped dead when they didn’t take the lead early enough (Newsweek).

Everything remains to create in this field. And let’s hope that the Internet giants, if they are interested in the press, will bring their essential wind of innovation especially because of their knowledge of the reader and that they will change their headlines preserving their integrity. Beyond an ethical requirement, it is above all for them an economic requirement. Because what would worth a headline like the Washington Post if it flouts all the rules of journalism and the loyalty to the information?

In this sense, the Internet giants are the first concerned by the success of the transplant with the old school values of the press – always a topical.

Because it knows how to inform, educate and entertain – should we go back to the Law of Freedom of the Press of 1881 ? - , the press has all the required qualities to adapt itself to the challenges that brings the future and to the demands of the readers.

David Lacombled


About David Lacombled 

A journalist by training, David Lacombled is a Managing Director for the content strategy at Orange. He is also president of the think-tank, The Villa Numeris and author of the book Digital Citizen (Plon).

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On Twitter : @david_lacombled