Suddenly, three of the most important news brands are owned by people or companies who don’t care about making a profit from journalism. In light of Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post, it’s worth looking closer at how it might more resemble Bloomberg and Reuters.
Bloomberg and Reuters treat quality journalism as a marketing expense to promote where they actually make real money: selling data to professional money managers.
When the television networks launched newscasts, they were meant to be a public service, provided in exchange for the public airwaves that the networks were given free use of. Making a profit wasn’t the goal. In recent years, network news has become viewed as a profit center. As a result, costs have been cut, bureaus closed and more airtime given to sensational topics.
Conversely, Bloomberg and Reuters treat their news divisions as marketing for their professional services. Bloomberg couldn’t care less about making money from news; it’s about promoting the Bloomberg terminal.
They’re willing to spend to make that happen. A friend of mine who went from working at a network news operation to Bloomberg said it was like going from being Orphan Annie to living at Daddy Warbucks’ house.
My own experience is a bit of a microcosm of that. I left journalism to work in tech. When Groupon became big, I noticed that no one was saying what needed to be said. So I self-funded my own investigative reporting. I gave up a big paycheck to work for free to expose Groupon.
The newspaper business model is in need of a hard reset. The approach that many publicly traded newspaper companies are taking—trying to cut their way to profitability—may make sense in the short term. But it threatens to doom newspapers to irrelevance in the long term. Declining spend on content will mean continued declines in circulation. Audiences will shrivel to the point that they aren’t meaningful to advertisers.
Outside the quarterly revenue reporting spotlight, the Post has a chance to do a hard reset and invest where it makes sense. And no one plays the long game better than Bezos.