On Thursday, Jeff Bezos sent an email to the Washington Post staff noting, as I’d reported a day earlier, that he’d been meeting with the paper’s business and editorial leaders—a visit that comes as Bezos concludes the very final stages of selecting either Josh Steiner or Will Lewis as the Post’s next publisher and C.E.O. In his very brief note, Bezos reiterated his commitment to the company and stressed the importance of returning to profitability: “If we work hard to understand our readers (and what they value) and keep producing the caliber of reporting I had the pleasure of reviewing with the teams this week,” he wrote, “I know we’ll again find financial success.”
Post staff were reasonably excited and, of course, star struck by Bezos’ visit and his optimistic reassurances. But the note also confirmed exactly what I noted about his near-term ambitions for the paper: The goal for now seems to be profitability, not greatness. In journalism, the best overtures to employees usually come in the form of a call to arms, with inspiring rhetoric about the team’s unrivaled talent and its mission to be the best in the field. Historically, an emphasis on profit and financial success isn’t the sort of thing that lights a fire in the hearts of reporters, underpaid as they often are, and motivated by scoops and bylines and beating the competition.
For what it’s worth, I would argue that journalists should be excited about the profitability and financial success of their companies, and far more engaged with the metrics that, you know, make it possible for them to do their jobs and reap the rewards (it’s certainly the operating model here at Puck). Nevertheless, it wouldn’t hurt to couch the P&L talk with a little Patton or Churchill. This isn’t the Albuquerque Journal or the Sun Sentinel, after all. It’s the Washington Post.