Latinos are serious PDA people, and not the air kiss type. Spend an afternoon at Casa Hurtado and there’s a whole lotta hand holding, abrazos, and just overall velcro-dom. So when I read on Twitter that Amazon founder and e-commerce pioneer Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million of his own dólares which I speak about on MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts show, I blew him a beso. And he deserves it: while he may have an eye on his legacy, it’s not every day that someone tries to save, not just the nation’s capital newspaper of record, but the journalism industry.
Journalism, as opposed to media, revitalizes democracy because of its mission to inform citizens. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen as much as it did in the Golden Age of CBS’s Walter Cronkite or the Post’s own Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Leaps of technology are allowing us to access and consume information directly, eliminating the need for a gatekeeper. This act is as revolutionary as Gutenberg’s printing press which made books available to more than the powerful scribes. Six centuries apart, each act cuts out the middleman, arming more people with the power that comes from forming their own judgement and opinion.
In the 21st Century, the sustaining walls of journalism give way–a business model under pressured by plummeting advertising rates worsened by a declining economy. Then there’s the media culture itself–mushrooming, fragmented, and cluttered, exposing the best and worst of the venerable newspapers of record–The Washington Post and The New York Times.
There is a legitimate reason why a large swath of the country feels these newspapers, television networks, and even NPR make up the “liberal, media elite.” It is true. Little diversity of thought, class, race, ethnicity, and geography exists at these institutions, especially at the top. Together they form an echo chamber that is out of touch with the needs and circumstances of real Americans, often times with reporters, columnists, and managers too ensconced in their comfy proximity to privilege to do their jobs–holding the people in power accountable. Who broke the latest chapter of New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s sexual exhibitionism? A website better known for raunchy sex gossip–TheDirty.com–which I write about in “‘Dem War on Women’? OR My First GIF Thanks to MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts.” Same goes for the story of NSA surveillance fugitive Edward Snowdon–exposed not by one of the News Usual Suspects but by blogger and attorney Glenn Greenwald, a columnist since August of 2012 for The Guardian.
And yet, social media, blogs, and websites rarely have the perspective, analysis, and judgment to place information within a larger context of the values foundational to our society. The Anthony Weiner story is not about Bill and Hills but about trust–how can New Yorkers trust this Privates Internet Flasher Sociopath to lead arguably the world’s premier city? Watergate was never about Richard Nixon’s personality, swaddled in sweat and paranoia, but about the abuse of power and our collective repudiation of it which dates back to 1776.
Our country is at yet one more transformational moment–demographically as we become more racially and ethnically mixed; politically as a vocal minority thrives with polarization and the silent majority tunes out, disgusted; and economically as we struggle to keep our footing amidst the dynamism of global capital.
Onto this stage Mr. Bezos steps. Not free of valid criticisms, he can infuse The Post and the industry with the same innovation and opening Amazon created for e-commerce and publishing. An opportunity exists to make journalism more participatory and personal, to reach and engage newer audiences such as Latinos and youth, both groups over-indexing on the use of mobile devices and technology. But unlike the Buzzfeeds of the world, we must continue to go deep. To tell the important stories of our budget battles and entitlement reform, we must hook consumers of news with the bubbly and viral sensibility of Sharknado yet with the breadth, depth, and staying power of The Great Works.
Although these are uncertain times, Mr. Bezo’s embrace of invention, his almost neurotic attention to detail, his patience and investment in the long view, give The Washington Post and the industry the best shot at relevancy and survival. The time is ripe for a full-throated journalism that forgoes the shallow, the easy, the spin, and the theatrics to stand up for the little guy. Not doing so will be the kiss of death to our craft and democracy.
Jeff Bezo’s purchase of the Washington Post was the main topic on MSNBC’s The Thomas Roberts Show “Agenda” round table with MSNBC’s Irin Carmon and Rachel Maddow Show producer and blogger Steve Benen. We also spoke about the congressional recess of advocacy as immigration supporters plan to keep up the pressure by attending lawmakers’ town hall meetings.
Click below to watch this segment which aired on August 6, 2013.
Click here to read Washington Post Buy: Why We Need Jeff Bezos to Save Journalism picked up by the HuffPost Media.Do you get your information from newspapers–in print or online–or from other sources?