Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Kentucky Courier-Herald, and Bezos's Neoliberal Education Reforms

Back in 2007, I was trying to envision what was going to happen to newspapers in America. As a non-professional semi-journalist, perhaps I'm not the guy to be engaging it such speculations. But as a citizen I rely on the Herald-Leader every day. The work of journalists is critically important to American democracy.

Amazon's Jeff Bezo
The paper stock itself, however, is not important.

It seems to me that geography will drive the future of the profession and all news will be local news. As budgets are cut and distant bureaus are reduced; as news is increasingly consumed from   hand-held devises by folks with little if any romantic attachment to newsprint; it would seem that physical infrastructure (trucks, presses...) will be the next area of cuts.

Is it possible that in the next decade I will open my Kentucky news app and read Kentucky content from Kentucky reporters hired by some combination of what used to be the Herald-Leader, Courier-Journal, and CNHI?

Sign up to enjoy a month of the Kentucky Courier-Herald on your mobile device for 99 cents!

I suspect the future of the Herald-Leader will be closely tied to the local content itself. That’s the only thing the paper can (and must) produce better than anyone else - if it is to reinvent itself for the new century. 

Is amazon innovation the fix for failing newspapers

This from the Herald Online:
The sale of the Washington Post to Internet pioneer Jeff Bezos matters far beyond the nation’s capital and could affect many more people than the newspaper’s readers and staff.

It’s no secret that newspapers in most communities are struggling. Some still hope that a way can be found to save the print newspapers themselves. But what’s more important is whether a way can be found to preserve and strengthen the kind of journalism the Post conducts every day. What our democracy needs is not newspapers, or ink on trees; it needs journalism based on solid, intrepid reporting, something for which the Post has justly earned renown.

As a former editor and publisher of a failed paper in Denver and most recently as a managing editor at the Washington Post, I know well the difficulty of transforming an organization based on the printing and distribution of a newspaper to one that is based on meeting the needs of readers in real time, wherever they are.

What we saw this week was a brave decision by the Post’s owner, Don Graham. It had to be painful to hand off an institution he loves to a new owner, even for $250 million, but it may have been the ultimate act of loyalty to the cause he believes in.

By shifting control to Amazon’s owner, the Graham family is giving the paper a better chance of success.

We know that Bezos is a businessman who is customer-centric. His Amazon Prime is like a one-price, all-you-can-eat smorgasbord for Americans. He came from virtually nowhere and transformed retail. The hope here is that he’s better equipped to do the same for journalism because he’s not burdened by the experience of those of us who grew up in the print era.

Just days before the sale was announced, a new study showed that from 2010 to 2013, U.S. adults increased the amount of time they spend every day on mobile devices for activities other than phone calls by almost two hours, from 24 minutes in 2010 to 2 hours and 21 minutes in 2013.

Facebook just saw its stock take a huge jump after reporting success in tapping that growth for advertisers. It may require an outsider’s perspective, someone with deep digital skills, to do the same for the kind of quality journalism the Post still produces.

We live in the era of big data, where many businesses know more than some of us would like about us, their customers. Yet, on the day the Post sale was announced, I received a telling call from a sales person asking me to re-subscribe to home delivery of the newspaper.The call was indicative of the problems newspaper companies face. The paper’s representative didn’t seem to know that I now lived in Palo Alto, Calif., and had subscribed to the paper’s digital service at its highest level, $14.99 every four weeks for access to the Post’s web and mobile sites, as well as all its apps.

Can you imagine the same thing happening with Amazon? Instead, Amazon would be recommending more things for me to buy and seeking my input on the products I’ve purchased to help other consumers make informed decisions.

California is seeing its own experiments with how to preserve journalism for the 21st century. At the Orange County Register, for example, a new owner without experience in the newspaper industry has double-downed on print. That return to the tried and true approach of a newspaper has its nostalgic appeal. But sit at any coffee shop or ride on any commuter train, and it’s obvious from just looking around that the public is making a different choice – the smartphone.

Maybe Bezos will be someone who can help news organizations leap into the future by giving people real journalism in a deeply satisfying way. If he can do that, the sale of the newspaper of the nation’s capital will resonate across the land. 
John Temple, a resident of Palo Alto, Calif., will be a senior fellow this fall at Stanford University in the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program. He most recently was a managing editor of The Washington Post.

Jeff Bezos's Other Endeavor: Charter Schools, Neoliberal Education Reforms

This from The Nation:

As news broke [this week] that founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos has dipped into his personal fortune to buy The Washington Post and several Post-related media properties, there has been buzz about Bezos’s potential political agenda.

His record seems to suggest that Bezos is socially liberal, but economically conservative. He has contributed to both Republicans and Democrats, from John Conyers (D-MI) to Slade Gorton (R-WA); donated to the libertarian Reason Foundation; provided $2.5 million to pass gay marriage in Washington State; as well as $100,000 to defeat a modest effort to create an upper income tax in Washington State...

There’s one area where Bezos has been hyper-active, but it is largely unknown to the general public: education reform. A look at the Bezos Family Foundation, which was founded by Jackie and Mike Bezos but is financed primarily by Jeff Bezos, reveals a fairly aggressive effort in recent years to press forward with a neoliberal education agenda:
• The Bezos Foundation has donated to Education Reform Now, a nonprofit organization that funds attack advertisements against teachers’ unions and other advocacy efforts to promote test-based evaluations of teachers. Education Reform Now also sponsors Democrats for Education Reform.

• The Bezos Foundation provided $500,000 to NBC Universal to sponsor the Education Nation, a media series devoted to debating high-stakes testing, charter schools and other education reforms.

• The Bezos Foundation provided over $100,000 worth of Amazon stock to the League of Education Voters Foundation to help pass the education reform in Washington State. Last year, the group helped pass I-1240, a ballot measure that created a charter school system in Washington State. In many states, charter schools open the door for privatization by inviting for-profit charter management companies to take over public schools that are ostensibly run by nonprofits.
Other education philanthropy supported by the Bezos Foundation include KIPP, Teach for America and many individual charter schools, including privately funded math and science programs across the country.

But will Bezos’ interest in changing education policy affect his control of the Post? Only time will tell...

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