On Wednesday, the Washington Post announced that it would be shuttering its free commuter tabloid newspaper, Express. The move, according to the Post reporter who broke the news, was caused by Express’ “deteriorating financial condition,” as “the printed paper had recently begun to lose money.” Twenty people will be losing their jobs.
After 16 years of purveying off-kilter, “news you can use”-type material, the staff of the Express have chosen to go out on a cheeky note:
The final cover of the Express pic.twitter.com/bpCvPq1w6B— David Jordan (@davpjor) September 12, 2019
“Add the Express to the list of print publications done in by mobile technology” is a hell of a half-truth. Yes, Facebook’s and Google’s tight-fisted control over most digital ad dollars surely did not help the bottom line of a free print newspaper, even one whose final issue was apparently stuffed with ads. But the Washington Post does not answer to the free market. If it did, it would likely be dead, or at least somewhere approaching death. Instead, the Post ultimately, if indirectly, answers to Jeff Bezos, who purchased the newspaper in 2013 for $250 million, or what was approximately then about 1 percent of his net worth. In the past six years, Bezos’ personal wealth has grown from about $25 billion to $113 billion.
This is how the staff of the Express, who are not covered by the Washington Post News Guild union contract, were informed that they would be losing their jobs:
They were called into a meeting midday on Wednesday with management, where they were informed their jobs were being eliminated and that Washington Post Express would cease publication Thursday. An announcement from the company about the layoffs was posted online before Express employees left the meeting or could notify their loved ones.
Although Washington Post employees will be the first to talk your ear off about the great strides the newspaper has made in growing its revenue and digital audience, the irresolvable contradiction of the paper’s “business plan” presents itself in announcements like the one above. The Post will always remain subordinate to the imperatives and preferences of its owner, even if the civic interest of its operations (“Democracy Dies in Darkness,” much?) screws up its bottom line.
In fact, the only reason to celebrate the acquisition of an ailing newspaper by the most powerful private individual on the planet was that it would have ostensibly protected its staff from exactly what just happened. And although Bezos cash has funded a substantial reinvestment of an unknown amount in the paper, it has come at a cost: Post staffers have still seen their pensions gutted and it took 400 employees signing an open letter to the Amazon CEO last year before the company improved its measly 1 percent 401k match.
That Bezos would be stingy shouldn’t be such a surprise. It took a few questions from the New York Times in 2017 before Bezos posted on Twitter to make a “request for ideas” for his philanthropic giving. He has refrained from signing the global billionaire “Giving Pledge” (a commitment from the world’s wealthiest to give most of their ill-gotten gains back to charitable causes), though his ex-wife Mackenzie is a notable signatory. Since then, Bezos has made a small number of charitable giving announcements, including a $2 billion “fund” for programs to benefit poor and homeless people.
All in all, it seems, Bezos is happy to throw his money at mostly frivolous billionaire bullshit. Earlier this summer, reported the Wall Street Journal, he purchased an $80 million Fifth Avenue condo in Manhattan, adding to his homes in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Texas and Washington state. Perhaps he could use them to host some of the 20 people he just put out of work. And while this might seem an unrefined take (Business is complicated! Everyone should be paid more!) it contains a simple, if idealistic, truth: Bezos has more money than anyone else on the planet, and if he really wanted to do a mitzvah, he could shell out less than a million a year for some journalists to have jobs.