Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Washington Post gives me great hope for the journalism business, and not just because he’s a brilliant and visionary technologist.
In 1999, when I was editor of Time, we decided to make Jeff the Person of the Year. I felt that he was transforming commerce in a way comparable to what Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck had done a century earlier. But as the year was ending and we were about to publish the issue, the internet stock bubble started to deflate, and I began to worry. Would we look silly a few months hence if Amazon and other tech companies collapsed?
I consulted Don Logan, the wise president of Time Inc. He was skeptical of the internet frenzy, but he told me not to worry. He had studied Bezos and Amazon carefully. “Jeff is not in the internet business,” Don told me. “He’s in the customer service business. Even if the internet bubble bursts, Amazon will be fine.”
His point was that Jeff knew that Amazon wasn’t just about technology. It was about understanding customer needs, providing a good product, and being trusted. In fact, trust was Amazon’s most important asset.
The internet bubble burst, and for a while Time got some ridicule, even from some at the Washington Post, for making Jeff the Person of the Year. But Don Logan turned out to be right. Thirteen years later, Jeff and Amazon are doing fine.
I’ve noticed a few things about Jeff over the years. He thinks things through carefully. He’s not impulsive. He’s not driven by ego. He develops a strong theory of the case for every new endeavor.
I’m sure that, in looking at what to do with a great newspaper, he’s got a strong theory of the case. And I suspect it’s not just about the technology.