Editor’s Weekly: Bezos and the Beacon B List | St. Louis Public Radio

Editor’s Weekly: Bezos and the Beacon B List

Aug 16, 2013

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Dear Beaconites -

What do Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry and the Beacon have in common? Here are some answers in the form of a Beacon B List:

1. All are part of the ongoing transformation in how you get news.

2. All involve new kinds of ownership for news organizations.

3. All embrace traditional journalistic values and ethics but must move beyond traditional thinking to achieve success.

The B List -- a feature that debuted this week -- is a small example of the Beacon's effort to experiment. We cover news that matters, including many complex topics. Without diluting our focus or quality, we want our coverage to appeal to a wider range of people.

The B List is a pithy way to share information, start conversations and spur thinking. We expect to create B Lists of many kinds on many topics, and we hope to have a little fun in the process.

The first B List was in response to the controversy that erupted over the rodeo clown caricature of President Barack Obama at the Missouri state fair. Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies reported extensively on what happened. In the related B List, Beacon General Manager Nicole Hudson Hollway compiled reasons she thinks it's a waste of time to get hung up in debate over the label of racism.

The list didn't contain the details that the story provided, but it sparked a good online conversation. We hope it drew in some people who don't have the time or inclination to read the longer piece.

There's a connection between the Beacon's B List micro experiment and macro trends in the media business represented by the deals that Bezos made to buy the Washington Post and Henry made to buy the Boston Globe.

Both storied companies are selling for a fraction of their historic value. That's because the digital revolution has changed the way people get news and destroyed the business model that used to yield reliably hefty profits for news organizations.

Recent years have brought a numbing litany of sales and closures. But there was special poignancy to the news that the Graham family would no longer control the Post and that the New York Times would no longer own the Globe. More than most media power players, they represent a commitment to quality and public service. But even strong family and corporate commitments can't by themselves guarantee strong local news coverage.

Instead, if news organizations are to serve the public well, they must be rooted in the technological and social changes that are taking us into the future. Perhaps Bezos' digital savvy will help with the transformation.

Though traditional media start with larger assets and reputations, the Beacon and other news organizations born of the digital age are playing an important role in finding a path forward. As a nonprofit, the Beacon can put our mission of public service at the center of our work and can build community support around it.

To some, the travails of the old media and the challenges of the new seem of little consequence. Some traditional organizations have opted for sizzle over substance, so it's of no great consequence if they fail. And in the digital world, everyone can be a publisher.

Yet newsrooms, however diminished, still play a vital role. Democracy requires a solid foundation of clear thinking and independent fact finding. Providing it is the work of good reporters, who have the privilege of spending all day every day finding facts, challenging powerful interests, examining assumptions and puncturing conventional wisdom.

At the Beacon, we're finding new ways to continue that work and to build a model that will help others sustain it as well.