Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post is sure to have ramifications all the way down to the hyperlocal level. Make that more ramifications. Amazon’s fast expansion from books to toothpaste, diapers and just about anything else that can be put in a box and shipped to your home has sucked billions of dollars out of metro brick-and-mortar retail markets. Big chain stores – and the big daily print newspapers where their ads used to appear – have been affected most. But smaller stores, are feeling the impact too, and the media reverberations extend down to community news sites and their revenue potential.
With all these retail and media changes, and more on the way, I asked leaders in hyperlocal news how they see Bezos’ purchase of the Post playing out in their territory.
Howard Owens, founder and publisher of The Batavian in Upstate New York:
I admire Jeff Bezos. He had a vision. He worked hard. He made it happen. What’s not to admire about that?
I’m staunch pro-local. I’m a localist. Empirical data shows that when communities have strong, vibrant, local business communities, people thrive. Graduation rates are higher. Teen pregnancy is lower. Literacy rates are higher. Average wages are higher. There’s less poverty. There’s greater civic engagement and participation. On every level of everything that makes life better, life is better in communities with healthy local business communities.
Amazon drains money from local communities. It gives nothing back.
As for Bezos and how his purchase of the Post will affect the hyperlocal publisher, it depends on what he invents. He could invent the most fabulous news delivery device ever and it could make him a zillion dollars and it would mean nothing, good or bad, for the local publisher. Or it could make us all richer. Or it could put us all out of business. Who knows?
For the hyperlocal publisher, this all is just one more reminder that whatever we do, we do on our own. We cut our own path, endure our own struggles and do our best to slowly build our businesses.
My general view is that more experimentation is a good thing in the news industry. One thing I hope Bezos doesn’t do is ramp up coverage – local or otherwise – in a way that’s not supported by the economics of online advertising. Bezos recognizes that the Post’s future is not in print, but he should also recognize that the current scale of newspapers is unsustainable in an online world. If Bezos goes too big in terms of the Post’s ambitions, he will actually be doing a disservice to those hoping to build a sustainable future for online news.
Carll Tucker, founder and CEO of Daily Voice, the 41-site regional group in suburban Connecticut and New York:
I think it’s terrific. Bezos is an innovator to his core. He will look at this business with fresh eyes and find new ways of doing things.We will all learn from him. The folks who need to worry are those who cling to the past, hoping against hope that nothing will change. EVERTHING will change – not because of Bezos – but because everything is changing. At Daily Voice we innovate as fast as we can – and it’s nowhere near fast enough.
Local merchants, like any other business, must learn to live in the digital age. Bezos is smart enough to know how important community merchants are. He, more than almost any other merchant in America, values every customer. That’s what community communications is all about – every customer is hugely important to us.
Technologically, many local news websites are years ahead of the Post, but new developments are easily replicable. I’m sure we’ll see changes in the Post’s website soon.
The conversation about how national and international news outlets will operate is as important as the creative work of Local Independent Online News Publishers at the local level. And innovations in reporting and connecting businesses with readers are always welcome, but I don’t see much merit to the idea that Bezos’ control of a national newspaper will have a direct, immediate impact on local news organizations.
Unlike delivering physical goods from a central warehouse to far-flung customers, local news requires local reporters. While Amazon has undercut many local bricks-and-mortar businesses, the logistics of local news are entirely different. Without boots on the ground, you don’t have local news to deliver – it can be made more efficient, but it can’t be centralized.
Debra Galant, Director of the NJ News Commons, an effort to support and unite news organizations throughout New Jersey, and Associate Director, New Media Initiatives, School of Communication and Media, at Montclair State University:
Like many others, I’ve lamented what Jeff Bezos’ empire has done to Main Street in general and bookstores in particular. But as as the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2013 pointed out, media is losing to technology, specifically in mobile display advertising, and I think it’s time we learned some of their tricks.
If the Washington Post becomes a laboratory for journalism innovation, rather than another tombstone in the media graveyard, that’s a plus for everybody, including those of us in hyperlocal.
Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is partnering with InstantAtlas to develop sites that will present how communities rate in livability. Local America is featured on the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Pivot Point site.