By Don Nelson
Out here in the communications boondocks, where broadband access is not a certainty and people still read printed products, we tend to watch developments in the newspaper industry with a combination of fascination, dread and appreciation for our distance from the major markets.
Digital devotees have already consigned us – meaning newspapers, usually, but magazines as well – to a quick and brutal demise. And a fair number of pundits, inside and outside the industry, think we deserve it – as though we need to be punished by technology to teach us some kind of lesson.
Those same observers typically lump all newspapers together, so that every article you come across assigns the same sad fate to everything produced on newsprint. Just as typically, they ignore the differences between big-city newspapers and the thousands of small, intensely local weekly papers around the country that are still hanging in there by sticking close to their communities while continuing to adapt.
Through organizations like the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, we are trying to remind people that we are different, in a good way, from the metropolitan papers that have seen their revenues gutted and their circulation plummet.
I can assure you, though, that every attentive journalist in the country has been reading everything they can about the recent sale of the venerable Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeffrey Bezos. There is a lot of speculation that Bezos, a brilliant and relentless innovator, will bring his “disruptive” ideas to the traditional newspaper business and perhaps fashion a new model for profitability.
Nobody knows what that might mean – and we especially don’t know what it might mean for the world of rural weeklies, where developments filter down more slowly.
My own experience with Bezos, when I was editor of the Puget Sound Business Journal in Seattle, was that he wasn’t particularly fond of journalism or journalists – which is why some observers were surprised at the Post purchase. He has for the most part kept his distance from the news media, except when the exposure can be controlled to his or Amazon.com’s advantage.
Now he’s in the thick of it, with millions of eyes watching his every move or parsing his every nuance. More than a few folks are hoping that Bezos will, in some messianic fashion, lead the way to a new paradigm in news production and delivery – maybe involving a combination of print and online presence, maybe not.
Bezos can afford to experiment and lose money in the process. The $250 million purchase price is but a small slice of his personal fortune. Like everyone else with a stake in the future of print, I’ll be watching to see what Bezos tries. Maybe he’ll come up with ideas that all of us can learn from. If so, his investment may pay off in ways we can’t yet imagine.
I’m still waiting to hear from anyone who knows the history of three weather- and time-worn information stands at the Goat Wall overlook on the road to the Goat Peak trailhead. The sturdy structures look a bit forlorn, with their informational features erased by forces of nature (or perhaps purloined by human hands).
The offer still stands: The newspaper will help restore the structures if someone or some organization takes it up as a project. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 997-7011 if you know something we should know.