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Top WaPo editor reveals how Jeff Bezos changed the paper

Melody Hahm
Reporter

Former Boston Globe editor Marty Baron became the executive editor of The Washington Post in January 2013. Seven months later, Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Post for $250 million.

At the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Wednesday, Baron said that Bezos does not inject himself into the coverage itself and does not have a presence in the newsroom.

Baron has one-hour biweekly calls with Bezos and visits Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle twice a year.

Despite Bezos’ seemingly laissez-faire approach, Baron said the Amazon founder has extremely high expectations for the kind of journalism the Post produces. However, given the changing media landscape, Baron said Bezos pushed a major change that he has since implemented: thinking about the web as a different medium.

“One of the first things [Bezos] mentioned is that we’re doing these deep investigations but other media outlets do another version of the story in 15 minutes and grab all your traffic. Bezos forced us to contend with that,” Baron said. “The answer was to aggregate ourselves. And aggregate other people. [Other outlets] are doing it to us so we have to do it along with them.”

In order to do that, Baron created an overnight team that works from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“Reporters are scanning the world, scanning the Internet, seeing what’s out there that’s interesting that we haven’t really developed,” said Baron. “It’s proved to be quite a success. You realize how many things you’re missing out on and jumped on those stories.”

Bezos may not micromanage, but he certainly pushes Baron to think about how to maintain The Post’s level of in-depth reporting while making sure readers actually click on stories.

“We can’t just sit there and complain about [other outlets taking our stories]. We can’t sue them because we’re not going to succeed at that. He challenged us to think more creatively than that,” he said.

Referencing The New York Times’ scathing expose on Amazon’s work culture, moderator Sarah Ellison asked whether Baron had experienced Amazon’s culture.

“I don’t know Amazon’s culture. We’re not owned by Amazon. I haven’t spent any time there except for our two meetings every year. We’re in a conference room for six hours, we leave the building and then go to dinner. All I can tell you is it’s not the culture of the Washington Post, that’s for sure,” he said.

“I don’t feel beat up, I think the morale is quite high. People feel pretty good about [working at the Post],” he said.

In fact, Baron said Bezos made it very clear from the get-go that he did not want The Post to alter its coverage of Amazon.

“I would hope [we could do a story like The New York Times’],” he said. “At a town hall, [Bezos] was asked why somebody like him who doesn’t comment on so many things could buy a media organization. He said that powerful minds can hold powerful inconsistencies. He said, ‘You can cover me the way you cover any other individual and Amazon like any other company.’ We’ll cover them the way we cover anybody else.”

Ultimately, Baron feels Bezos has had a positive, healthy impact on the newspaper and their core visions are closely aligned.

“[The Washington Post] had this tradition, this strong brand and he could build on that. He’s committed to shining a light on dark corners and holding powerful people accountable. I agree with that.”

Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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