When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spent $250 million of his own money to buy the Washington Post last year, it set off a frenzy of speculation in media circles about his intentions for the erstwhile newspaper. And it’s still unclear just what he’s up to. (When former New York Times editor Jill Abramson visited the Quartz newsroom recently, it was one of the things she wanted to talk about most). The best theories involve Bezos wanting to buy influence in the nation’s capital, or attempting to reinvigorate the Kindle, one of Amazon’s core products.
Today Bezos gave a rare glimpse into his thinking (which follows his interview with the Washington Post last September, just after the purchase was confirmed). At the Ignition conference hosted by Business Insider, he revealed that he never sought out to buy a newspaper, but was approached through an intermediary of the former owners to see whether he was interested. Initially he was skeptical about investing in an industry in which he lacked expertise and knowledge, and into a business that from the outside looked “hopeless.” But he quickly came around.
“I didn’t know anything about the newspaper business,” Bezos said at the conference (he is also an investor in Business Insider), “but I did know about the internet.”
Bezos said he is “very optimistic about the future of the Post” and impressed by the journalists working in its newsroom. He said the “big change” underway at the company is transforming its product from a local offering focused on machinations in the US capital, into a national, and even global news offering.
Shortly after Bezos acquired the Post, the paper lost one of its highest profile personalities, political blogger Ezra Klein, who left to join Vox Media (which, after another round of venture capital financing this week is reportedly valued at $380 million). “You idiots!” wrote the New York Times’s Paul Krugman of the Post’s decision to let Klein leave.
But so far Bezos appears to have the touch. In October, New York Times media critic David Carr (a tough critic among journalists) heaped praise on the Post’s recent work. “The once-embattled newspaper is in the middle of a great run, turning out the kind of reporting that journalists—and readers—live for.”