What Jeff Bezos Knows: Tradition is Still Important for Audience Development

Growth doesn't just depend on what's new; veterans have valuable, unique insight.
Growth doesn’t just depend on what’s new; veterans have valuable, unique insight.

The world was all atwitter, especially on Twitter, the day founder and CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, purchased of one of America’s fundamental newspapers — The Washington Post. Some were stunned, some were encouraged, but everyone speculated about which direction Bezos would take the paper next.

Some clues are emerging, and they give traditionalists a bit of hope for the paper’s future. Michael Calderone for The Huffington Post reports that Bezos has met privately with 40-year Washington Post veteran journalist and author, Bob Woodward. But more than that, Woodward has set up shop on the 5th floor, at least for a while.

This is a marked change from Woodward’s recent presence, where his byline has appeared 5 times or fewer each year since 2011. But make no mistake, he is a rich resource. It was Woodward and Carl Berstein who broke the Watergate scandal in 1972.

With the instability of the newspaper industry, curiosity about the Post’s new Bezos era seems appropriate. Will he make radical and sweeping changes, and could he breathe new life into one of the most respected papers in the country? That remains to be seen, but one thing seems evident. Bezos respects the tradition and opinion of veterans in the industry, and perhaps you should, too.

Why Woodward, and Why Now?

Although the way newspapers are delivered has seen radical changes in recent years, journalism is still journalism. Bob Woodward has decades of experience, and his colleagues seem optimistic about his presence at the Post.

The respect Bezos has expressed is mutual, by Calderone’s account. Woodward is quoted as saying, ”I’ve known him [Bezos] for years. I think he’s really serious.”

Whether a newspaper is digital, print, or both, it’s the reporters, writers, and editors who make it’s heart beat. Revenue development and audience development aren’t the same thing. The best revenue-development strategy in the world can’t replace the need for sound journalistic principles and the professionals who know how to employ them.

Woodward’s larger presence at the Post means Bezos cares about the integrity of the paper. This should be a sign to every newspaper, even small, digital startups. Veterans journalists know the industry in ways that even the smartest business person doesn’t.

Audience Development Requires Audience Focus

An audience focus gives your readers what they really want.
An audience focus gives your readers what they really want.

Bezos spoke with his newsroom team, says The Motley Fool’s John Reeves, and revealed at least part of his plans. Instead of only working to survive, which is what many in the industry seem to be thinking about, he says the focus must be on growth. Easy to say, but perhaps not so easy to do.

He further explained that the audience is where their attention must be. Another switch from revenue-centric way many newspapers operate in today’s market. Finally, Bezos explained to his staff that instead considering the Internet as the thing that destroyed newspapers, they should embrace the wealth of possibilities that it affords them.

The direction that Bezos appears to be going is creating something of value that readers will be willing to pay for. This circles back to Woodward, and his years of experience doing that very thing.

Tradition and modern journalism aren’t necessarily strange bedfellows. The manufacture, distribution, and revenue sources have certainly changed, and will continue to do so. But the heart of any newspaper is its copy and the professionals that produce it.

For established publications and those just getting off he ground, perhaps it’s wise to take a lesson from the unlikely new head of the Washington Post. Revenue streams keep you in business, but it’s the audience who make those streams possible. Engage the audience by offering something valuable, like a high-quality job board solution, and your revenue will reap the rewards.

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