So, the big news of the day is that The Washington Post will be sold to Jeff Bezos. All in all, it makes a lot of sense. Bezos gets a new part time hobby and journalists get a new sponsor for their never ending quest for truth, purity and whatnot. Everybody wins.
But what would happen if Bezos managed The Washington Post the way he has done with his previous endeavors?
Amazon as a whole is, for the lack of a better word, amazing. It's highly effective machine that is built to be scalable with as little human intervention as possible. Instead of using humans to do the actual sales it relies on algorithms, tracking and statistical data. Every bit of the process is automated or will be automated when the technology is ready for it. And it's not just Amazon the bookstore or general e-retailer either. Amazon Web Services practically ignited the whole cloud infrastructure business, which uses scalability and automation to boost productivity.
Doesn't really sound like like journalism, which involves actual humans researching, writing and creating. At the moment, at least.
Journalism and the tools that are used to create the actual content are currently at the same state that IT industry was in the early 90s with programming tools and practices. There are software and services to manage snippets of information, but most of the process is managed by the journalists in their heads, in emails, on whiteboards or in other collaborative systems (if they're lucky and not too stubborn). Then the ideas are typed into Microsoft Word and copy-pasted into some godforsaken enterprise publishing system. Sounds pretty much like programming assembly with early text editors.
In the last 20 years the IT industry and programming has seen a tremendous rise in productivity. Most of this is due to the nature of the business and the people: they are analytical and have the skills to fix the problems they encounter. They're also lazy, which means that they want to avoid doing any unnecessary work. Let the computer do it if possible. Because of these things, we've seen the rise of Integrated Development Environments, version control, code templates, sophisticated debuggers and other tools. The rate of development has been far greater than anything seen in other areas of content creation tools.
And it's not just the tools, but the community as well. Programmers have Reddit, Stack Overflow, GitHub and other communities that allow them to to help each other and to work together, sharing their ideas and actual end results of their work with other people all over the world. Doesn't really sound like newsrooms which are often plagued with journalists mostly working alone, protecting their scoops and essentially fighting to keep their their jobs in a ruthless environment.
There are some forays into automating the mundane tasks of news production like the much publicized "robot journalism" tools that Narrative Science provides. But they are mostly about creating the actual content automatically, not helping the people who create the content to be better at their work.
Now, Jeff Bezos is smart. Really smart. He knows all of the above. He's seen the effects of the automation and technology and what they can do in various industries to boost the productivity. I doubt that he'll swallow the current costs of running a newsroom without asking if all that is really the best they can do. Without asking if things could be done better, more efficiently. If technology could be used to help journalists in filling the empty Word documents with more advanced set of prepared content. I doubt he'll accept that spell checking is the pinnacle of automation.
I just hope he isn't distracted too much with his real businesses and that he has the tenacity to fight the resistance for any change in how newsrooms work.