Can Jeff Bezos Save The Post?

Amazon’s founder recently bought one of the world’s premier newspaper groups, The Washington Post, just as newspapers around the country are failing. Can he save it?

Well, as a semi-insider I can tell Mr. Bezos that, unless there have been major changes I haven’t heard about, he faces some big internal problems.

You see, for decades I wrote The Power User column for Government Computer News, in the last few years of its existence as a print newspaper GCN was owned by Post-Newsweek Tech Media and from the day it was purchased I took every opportunity to tell management my thought that to continue to exist and grow, we needed two things, a much greater emphasis on the online features and some way for readers to interact.

government computer news
Government Computer News front page

The Power Curmudgeon

As a very popular columnist (known to insiders as The Power Curmudgeon) I was anxious to both assist readers and have readers share experiences with others in the same jobs across the various government branches. A blog-type feature would have been the perfect venue for this, a way for my many technical readers to ask questions which either I or others could answer.

In a small way, I tried to put some reader questions in the column on occasion and that worked, but what would have really boosted visitors to the Web site would have been an online interactive way to exchange information among readers.

I was never able to generate even the slightest interest in my ideas among management. GCN was online but there was zero interactivity with readers and no way for readers to share information with each other.

After 25 years with the publication and just before GCN was sold to a competitor, my editor retired and the new editor wanted me to dumb down the column by explaining every simple concept, something which, I strongly argued, would quickly turn off my readers who were ALL highly experienced IT workers in the military, intelligence, and justice departments. Having to explain the simplest terms every time also meant almost no room for new information.

Rather than turn off my readers, and dragging things out, we quickly parted ways.

Washington Post Bought Another Tech News Service

I feel fairly confident I knew what I was talking about because, in addition to being a columnist for Post-Newsweek Tech Media, I was one of the first online high-tech journalists, having been the Washington Bureau Chief for Newsbytes News Network (No connection with Newsblaze) for many years. My fellow editors, contributors, and bureau chiefs were, as far as I know, made up the first dedicated tech “wire service” with our stories carried on USENET and by various newspapers and magazines around the world.

Newsbytes was the first, and possibly the only online news service which was 100% subscription based (USENET at first) just like the old AP and UPI wire services, but we focused entirely on technology.

I mention that because when founder Wendy Woods retired, she sold Newsbytes to The Washington Post. That makes two major tech news outlets I worked for which The Post thought enough of to buy.

As a semi-insider from two Post subsidiaries I hope Mr. Bezos realizes that he is likely to run into a lot of problem with management as he tries to drag The Post into this century. Sure, it is now online, but if they had listened to me even a little bit, it would have happened years earlier and they could have led the way for print media onto the Web.