NEW YORK (TheDeal) -- Jeff Bezos closed the purchase of the Washington Post on an auspicious news day.
The change in control on Oct. 1 coincided with the shutdown of the Federal government and the debut of the health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. As a news story, political discord plays well in the Washington Post's local audience and among the readers outside the Beltway who make up 90% of its online audience.
The dual local-national nature of the Washington news market presents a dilemma for Bezos and the paper's leadership.
Should the Washington Post focus on the attractive markets in Washington,Maryland and Virginia, or devote the resources to develop national coverage and advertising, which it has attempted to do in the past? There is more for the Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) founder and CEO to contemplate. Bloomberg LP and Politico LLC have introduced custom information services in Washington that bill thousands of dollars a year. Their success on the Washington Post's home field underscores the opportunity to provide lucrative information services to lobbyists, contractors and others who do business in Washington. The speculation about how the e-commerce tycoon will remake the paper has been boundless since Bezos announced his $250 million investment this Summer. Basic questions about geographic emphasis and the application of technology to consumer or professional audiences provide a starting point for contemplating the Amazon Post. "They need to decide what they are going to be," said Merrill Brown, director of Montclair State University's School of Communication and Media, who was the founding editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com and a Washington Post reporter. In addition to chasing stories, Brown suggests, the editorial mission would include product development and collaboration with the business side of the paper. Changing the news model likely will involve rethinking such fundamental journalistic principles as the church-state division, which could create profitable news formats but could also produce newsroom turmoil. Especially since Bezos is known equally as much for his volcanic temper as for his business vision. "The most important thing to do there is to really create a different culture," Brown said of the newspaper. Gannett Co.'s (GCI) appointment of MarketWatch founder Larry Kramer as the publisher of USA Today could serve as an example of an online-minded overhaul. "The reality is there isn't a deep bench of great digital thinking there," he said of the Washington Post. Bloomberg and Politico have demonstrated the market for high-priced digital products in Washington. In early 2011, the former introduced Bloomberg Government and the latter, Politico Pro. Lobbyists, congressmembers, staffers, association executives, contractors and others pay thousands of dollars a year for subscriptions to the real-time news services. "That market was just taken away from the Post," said Ken Doctor, a consultant with Outsell Inc. in Burlingame, Calif. "Under Bezos, they could contest that market." The Amazon founder's deep pockets will help. Doctor said Bezos would be more open to exploring new markets and formats than the prior ownership, which remained committed to the newspaper model.
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