Bezos Tells 'Post' Employees He Shares Paper's Values

The world of newspapers was rocked Monday by news that Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com, is buying The Washington Post for $250 million. Bezos' purchase of the paper will bring to an end its association with the Graham family, which bought the Post in 1933.

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Jeff Bezos has never been one to shy away from low-margin businesses. At the same time, the entrepreneur has never shown any interest in the newspaper business. A lot of people are wondering what he's thinking about with this move. Here's NPR's Wendy Kaufman.

WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: Amazon's founder and CEO is known as someone who gets things done. Though he started his online business modestly - selling books - Jeff Bezos has always had grand ambitions. Just think about the name of his company: The Amazon is a river that carries more water than any other river in the world. Here's Bezos in an interview with NPR, back in 1999.

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JEFF BEZOS: Our No. 1 mission is to be Earth's most customer-centric company, and we mean that across any industry and across any time - listening to customers, figuring out what they want, giving it to them, exceeding their expectations.

KAUFMAN: Today, the company's universe goes far beyond retail to hardware, e-books, cloud computing, even a movie studio. In 2012, Fortune magazine named him businessman of the year, calling him the ultimate disruptor who has upended industries. Today, the 49-year-old Bezos is worth about $25 billion. The Washington Post goes into his personal portfolio.

The deal does not involve Amazon. It's by far the entrepreneur's largest investment but passionate about space travel, he started Blue Origin to develop a space vehicle and make space travel more affordable. And Todd Bishop, the co-founder of the tech news site GeekWire, cites his investments in Uber and MakerBot.

TODD BISHOP: So he's very much into upending traditional industries. But up until this point, he's done it primarily by going with companies that are taking completely new takes on industry trends; like 3-D printing or, you know, alternative taxi services.

KAUFMAN: But with the Post, he says, Bezos is doing something quite different.

BISHOP: This is Jeff Bezos trying to reinvent an industry from the inside.

KAUFMAN: On the surface, his company, Amazon.com, wouldn't seem to have much in common with a daily newspaper. But both create and publish content, woo advertisers, and have on-the-ground distribution networks. And, as Todd Bishop suggests...

BISHOP: He must have some kind of plan - or at least, some kind of hope - that some of the principles that he's perfected at Amazon and some of those other ventures will be able to benefit a traditional company like The Washington Post.

KAUFMAN: But at the same time, Bezos has told Post employees that he shares the values of the newspaper, and doesn't intend to change them. That was welcome news to Leonard Downie, former executive editor of the newspaper.

LEONARD DOWNIE: So that, to me, is the most important thing - are the news values of the newspaper. And Jeff Bezos' statement made clear that he believes in them and will keep them going.

KAUFMAN: Standing outside the headquarters of The Washington Post, Downie said the paper's management also believes that Bezos will invest whatever it takes, to ensure a bright future for one of the nation's most prestigious newspapers.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

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