Why Are Rich Dudes Buying Up Newspapers?

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the “Washington Post” and the media is all atwitter with theories as to why. I tried to buy a “Washington Post” in Sonoma County and couldn’t find one to save my life. And no one gives a tweet about it. Clearly, Bezos’ Q score is higher than mine. Or rather, he has one. That’s how the media measures the appeal of a brand, celebrity or other commodification of the ineffable qualities of stardust – if you can call it that in Bezos’ case.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Bezos’ hometown Seattle quit minting stars after the demise of Nirvana in 1994. Since then, it’s minted brands, with Amazon (incept date 1995) in cozy company with Microsoft and Starbucks. The media has long professed its love for brands in the digital media realm – Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon – because, as proven by Bezos’ acquisition of the “Post,” these juggernauts will soon be their masters.

Reading the coverage of the “Post” purchase, or really, reading any media about media, is like drinking out of a Klein Bottle – it may look cool but it can’t hold water. Naturally, Sonomans, this is different than a bottle of Cline, which holds wine just fine.

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The question is, why would the man whose company is most responsible for pushing the death of print via its Kindles e-readers and ebooks, purchase a publication that is print exemplified? It was the “Post,” after all, that broke the Watergate scandal and set the high bar for American journalism in the 70s. That was back when a reporter could break a story in a newspaper, publish a book, then see it adapted into a major motion picture with Hollywood golden boy Robert Redford portraying him. Given the general denigration of print journalism this past decade, a news writer would be lucky to rate a cast member from “Jackass” in a straight-to-YouTube adaptation of their blog. And to add insult to irony, those “Jackass” dudes can’t even read.

Consider this factoid – Bezos didn’t buy the “Washington Post” with Amazon money but rather his own. Hedging his bets in case the Luddites revolt? Or is preparing for the dark day when everyone’s Kindles run out of juice and no one can find their chargers?

What’s germane is that other would-be media moguls are purchasing newspapers with their down dosh as well. Red Sox owner John Henry just snapped up the “Boston Globe” for a tidy $70 million and no one knows why. The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, recently purchased 28 newspapers and pundits are still scratching their heads. Clearly, these guys know something that we, the media, don’t. What could that be? Bezos can data mine the spending habits of most Americans with a few clicks on his Kindle Fire, Henry is known as a shrewd statistician who made his money by calculating the projected value of soybeans, then Moneyballed his baseball team to a World Series victory using a performance-enhancing spreadsheet. Tales of Buffet’s ability to ferret out value where others haven’t are the stuff Wall Street dreams are made of. Could it be that there’s money in newspapers? And what order of digital fracking are they using to get it out?

Ralph at the pub suggests these guys aren’t purchasing newspapers so much as mindshare. I’d be inclined to believe were it not for the fact that I haven’t picked up a newspaper in 10 years, other than to make sure my byline was spelled right. But then, I’m a cable-cutting, news-app-reading, digital media heathen. Chances are Bezos, Buffet and Henry know this and are either plotting to eventually port their product straight into the brains of me and my ilk... Or, they’re planning the world’s biggest bonfire.