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Jeff Bezos on WaPo: 'Skeptical of Any Mission That Has Advertisers at Its Centerpiece'

Amazon CEO Shows Off His Soothing Political Skills in Interview

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Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos

In an exclusive interview with (surprise) The Washington Post today, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos kind of, sort of reveals his plans for the paper. It's his first interview since the Aug. 5 announcement that Bezos is buying the American journalistic institution for $250 million, and the paper offers an optimistic take in its headline: "Jeffrey Bezos, Washington Post's next owner, aims for a new 'golden era' at the newspaper."

The money quote comes in this paragraph:

"If we figure out a new golden era at The Post . . . that will be due to the ingenuity and inventiveness and experimentation of the team at The Post," he said. "I'll be there with advice from a distance. If we solve that problem, I won't deserve credit for it."

His emphasis in the interview is on experimentation -- which he doesn't necessarily expect to happen in Internet Time:

"You study, you debate, you brainstorm and the answers start to emerge. It takes time. Nothing happens quickly in this mode. You develop theories and hypotheses, but you don't know if readers will respond. You do as many experiments as rapidly as possible. 'Quickly' in my mind would be years."

Overall, Bezos, who spoke by phone with the paper's Paul Farhi in advance of a planned two-day visit with his new employees today and tomorrow, mostly showed off his soothing political skills, which led Farhi to conclude that, "Bezos appears unlikely to make any major decisions or pronouncements during his visit or propose any immediate changes. He said he is eager to meet with and listen to managers and learn about the news organization's operations." (Sure, yeah, of course.)

The most telling moment in the piece may be when Bezos reveals a reader-centric -- not advertiser-centric -- vision for the paper:

Asked how he saw The Post -- as a local, national or international news organization -- Bezos demurred. "That's a question that needs to be answered in concert with the leadership team of The Post. Is it local? Or national? Is it something new?" Whatever the mission, he said, The Post will have "readers at its centerpiece. I'm skeptical of any mission that has advertisers at its centerpiece. Whatever the mission is, it has news at its heart."

On the web version of the Post's Bezos interview, by the way, cranky readers are piling on, leaving comments like "If you have enough money to buy anything you want, that automatically makes you an authority on anything" (left by a reader who uses the handle pjs-1965) and "$250 million for a tired old Soviet style Leftist propaganda sheet" (left by none other than JosephStalin).

Read the whole piece right here.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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