Bezos Might Actually Listen to His Newsroom
I just wanted to take a minute to respond to a blog post by one of Publishing Executive's columnists, D. Eadward Tree. In his post today, "Bezos Needs To Learn the First Rule of Newspaper Ownership," he argues that Bezos should learn not to tick off advertisers.
On the contrary, I'd argue that Bezos should try to learn next to nothing from the "newspaper business." Rather, he should learn what he can from his employees, especially the young, innovative folks in the trenches, who probably have some good ideas that have been overlooked.
I won't pretend that I'm an expert on the mind of Bezos, but based on what I do know about him, and what I've learned about techie management in general, I will speculate on a few things.
In the long run, advertisers care about one thing: return on investment. Right now, they don't see a healthy ROI because the newspaper as a product is broken. Bezos will rightfully forget the advertisers-for a time-and focus on fixing the product. To use a tech term, he will improve the "user experience." Once he has a product modern people will actually use, by default, he will be making advertisers very happy.
Ostensibly, Bezos has the money (meaning the time) to pull back and make some fixes, without worrying about what some peeved advertisers have to say. After all, they've been the ones following The Post down the rabbit hole for years.
I think Bezos has a profound respect for editors and reporters, those that actually power a news organization, just as most successful tech companies have profound respect for the developers and programmers that power a web company. I think he sees them as underutilized and will change that by powering innovation from the bottom up, not from the top down.
With a mindset of experimentation, he'll take new ideas and test them on a small scale, and analyze the results. That's not a novel approach to management: but I do think that Bezos realizes, as many tech companies do, that large, entrenched, bureaucratic organizations have a tendency to choke out innovative ideas by the time they reach the boardroom.
I'm not trying to paint Bezos as an angel or a savior, but I do think he has a lot more to teach the newspaper industry than he needs to learn from it, turning the focus to the user and the innovator being two important items.
Here's a snippet from a 2004 Fast Company profile of the Amazon founder that I found revealing:
If Bezos's personality is decidedly noncorporate, so are some of his ideas about how to run a large organization. One of Bezos's more memorable behind-the-scenes moments came during an off-site retreat, says Risher. "People were saying that groups needed to communicate more. Jeff got up and said, 'No, communication is terrible!' " The pronouncement shocked his managers. But Bezos pursued his idea of a decentralized, disentangled company where small groups can innovate and test their visions independently of everyone else. He came up with the notion of the "two-pizza team": If you can't feed a team with two pizzas, it's too large. That limits a task force to five to seven people, depending on their appetites.
Denis Wilson was previously content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzed and reported on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aimed to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.