Bezos won't make print profitable, and that doesn't matter

Lots of people are wondering what it means for Jeff Bezos to buy the venerable Washington Post Company.  Can he make it profitable again.  I say, that's not the question. there is a historical reality that everyone is ignoring about journalism: it wasn't supposed to be profitable.


From the beginning of this country, which was in large part launched by a healthy dose of print journalism, newspapers were money pits.  Their primary goal in life was to support a certain cause.  For example, Joseph Pulitzer was Missouri politician who amassed a significant personal wealth.  He bought an interest in one paper, flipped it quickly to another investor and then used that profit to buy another.  He merged the two papers the St. Louis Post Dispatch supporting Republican causes.  His personal wealth continued to grow so he bought the New York World, which was bleeding cash at the time, and went into a frenzied competition for readers with the New York Journal and William Randolph Hearst, who used the paper to support Democrats, corporations and war.  Hearst supported his journalism empire with proceed from mining and oil.


Journalim progressed for decades as a place for wealthy people to support their causes, not to make money


There was a glitch in the history of journalism where that statement was not true.  It started around the 1950s with the advent of television journalism. The airwaves are public and Congress decided that if television stations were going to use it to make money, they needed to provide a public service for a certain time every day.  They decided to create news programs to meet that requirement.  The news operations were not designed to make money.  Something funny happened though.  They did make money -- lots of it -- because advertisers wahted to be associated with serious reality, rather than situation comedy.  That started the golden age of advertising, glorfied in today's hit TV show Mad Men.


 We all know what happened to that age.  And that brings us to Jeff Bezos.


Bezos' politics tens toward the libertarian side (hes a big supporter of the libertarian emag, Reason.com), though he gives buckets of money to democrats.  From his viewpoint, keeping the liberal-leaning Washington Post going is important (I tend to agree with him on that), the cost ($250 million) is a drop in the bucket against his personal wealth and the losses will help reduce his own taxes (he doesn't like the IRS).


We are seeing journalism return to its roots as principaled advocates.  Tht's not a value judgement.  It just is what it is. And gazillionaires like Bezos are going to keep it alive for the foreseeable future.