Bezos’s hard charge into the great unknown

Jeff Bezos knows two things that won’t save newspapers: Advertisers and paywalls. Bezos is aware that ads and paid content are the only two ways that newspapers make money these days. The Amazon founder and new Washington Post owner believes that newspapers need to find a third way, a mechanism for profitably delivering the news that doesn’t exist yet. So the job of Jeff Bezos, Professional Rich Guy, will primarily consist of throwing money at one of the nation’s leading newspapers until it innovates its way into a reliable revenue stream.

The Post interviews its new owner today, and Bezos is remarkably frank about the fact that he has no idea how his new $250 million toy is going to make any money. Bezos is worth roughly $24 billion, so he can buy a financially troubled newspaper as easily as most folks call out for pizza delivery. That financial capacity should come in handy, since Bezos primarily sees his role at the Post as providing a “runway” of financial support until the paper figures out how to make the news business profitable. He’s clear that he doesn’t intend to relocate from Seattle to Washington and start dictating business decisions to Marty Baron and Katharine Weymouth and company. Instead, he’s going to give them time and money to experiment.

“In my experience, the way invention, innovation and change happen is [through] team effort,” Bezos tells the Post. “There’s no lone genius who figures it all out and sends down the magic formula. 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.”

Bezos tells the Post that he wants to bring an Amazon approach to the paper: “Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.” He’s not sure what that experimentation will entail, and it’s almost beside the point. The most revealing part of the Post interview is that Bezos thinks both of the two ways American newspapers fund themselves are fundamentally broken.

He says he’s deeply skeptical “of any mission that has advertisers at its centerpiece. Whatever the mission is, it has news at its heart.” At the same time, being the founder of Amazon.com, Bezos knows how the internet works. He’s walking into the newspaper business with no illusions about the prospect of paywalls to turn the business around.

The New York Times has the country’s highest profile paywall. Paid access has put a floor under the paper’s plummeting revenues, but it hasn’t been a money-maker. The Times paywall only counts as a success if its goal was to slow the rate at which paper bleeds out. Paywalls don’t work, Bezos tells the Post, because they’re antithetical to the news business. Whatever one news organization locks behind a password, another will publish for free. “The Post is famous for its investigative journalism,” he says. “It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of Web sites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free. One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment? If you can’t, it’s difficult to put the right resources behind it.”

                                                                                                                                                                       –PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

The Herald accuses Gov. Deval Patrick of suffering from political amnesia for expressing concern over a tax he was the first to propose.

Sen. Dan Wolf’s ethical dilemma continues to draw attention. The Globe’s Joan Vennochi over the weekend said that if liberals don’t like the law they should change it, through legislation. And the Sun’s Peter Lucas compares the Ethics Commission to the East German Stasi of old. Meanwhile, a post on Blue Mass Group hails a CommonWealth piece indicating more lawmakers are likely to face the same ethical challenges as Wolf.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Municipal service complaints in Boston are up 35 percent since 2010, driven by the ability of citizens to make reports via smartphones, the Globe reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation are split on Syria, with Sen. Ed Markey more willing to consider a strike than Sen. Elizabeth Warren and US Rep. Michael Capuano, NECN reports.

Federal rules may derail a proposal for a New Hampshire infrastructure bank, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

ELECTIONS

Jennifer Kannan criticizes Mayor Stephen Zanni for failing to develop a financial plan for the city of Methuen, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Charlotte Golar Richie and Charles Yancey are the latest Boston mayoral candidates profiled on Keller@Large. The Globe profiles Felix Arroyo; CommonWealth looked at Arroyo’s bid to build a grassroots movement last week.

Tom Keane says a planned September 10 forum only open to Boston’s minority mayoral candidates only hurts the organizers’ presumed goal of electing the city’s first minority mayor. The mayoral race heads into its final frantic weeks with accusations of idea-stealing and flip-flopping.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno backs Treasurer Steve Grossman for governor. Attorney General Martha Coakley is quietly reaching out to labor unions as she weighs a gubernatorial run.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

CommonWealth’s Paul McMorrow, in his weekly Globe column, says Boston has an unwarranted fear of (building) heights.

Microsoft buys Nokia’s cellphone business for $7 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The state closed 40 commercial oyster beds on the South Shore and ordered the recall of the shellfish from restaurants and stores at the start of the busy Labor Day weekend after at least three people were apparently sickened by local oysters.

TJX, the Framingham-based retailer that owns Marshalls, Home Goods, and T.J. Maxx, is planning to launch an online shopping site by late fall.

A new report set to be released today on religion and charitable giving finds Jewish donors are among the country’s most generous with younger Jews increasingly giving to causes with no affiliation to their faith, unlike their elders. Via Chronicle of Philanthropy.

A Republican editorial notes that Smith and Wesson continues to flourish as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department selects a pistol produced by the  Springfield gun manufacturer to issue to its officers.

EDUCATION

A survey by the Patriot Ledger finds that full-day enrollment and free kindergarten in the region lag significantly behind the rest of the state.

Boston public schools will offer free breakfast and lunch to any student this year, regardless of family income, courtesy of an experimental federal initiative.

HEALTH CARE/SCIENCE

A medical marijuana grower in New Bedford has received $6.5 million in startup funds from a Boston philanthropist to launch a dispensary if the city approves.

A new study by the Harvard School of Public Health finds that consumption of whole fruits is  linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes but fruit juices may actually increase the risk.

Scientists try a new tack in a resource-tight environment: crowdfunding promising research projects.

TRANSPORTATION

Epic traffic jams did not materialize heading off Cape Cod Monday largely because of the clouds and showers.

Federal security funding for the MBTA has been halved but the agency says it won’t affect frontline police staffing levels.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The state’s fishing haul has changed as a result of federally mandated catch limits and cooler waters off the coast drawing different species of fish. Long fin squid, more common south of Cape Cod, are showing up in greater numbers off the coast of Salem, the Salem News reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Somerville is reeling from the arrest of three teens in connections with alleged sexual assaults at a pre-season camp in the Berkshires for Somerville High School athletes.

MEDIA

Former Boston Globe reporter Carey Goldberg, in an opinion piece for WBUR, urges the Globe to cover less of the old Boston and more of the new.