Five Things Jeff Bezos Needs to Know About the District

1) The District Has a Very Vibrant Local

This one should be obvious in the way that it would be in any big city, but it needs to get said: the District’s local culture is inimitable, no matter how much NYC or Philly like to pound on this city, or Chicago, LA and SF like to ruffle their feathers. It’s easy to look at the District and see just the Federales, Congress and all the regrettable sorts the States send to represent themselves in our government. It’s easy to look at federal contracting and make wanking gestures like, “Oh God, that’s so boring,” or “That’s not much of an economy.”

Don’t make that mistake. This is a city with vibrant professional bloggers, a public radio station that’s regularly breaking news ahead of the print and digital outlets, not to mention some bastions of independent reportage, good local TV news, and a whole lot of news to work with. Let’s be honest, Jeff, there’s a reason you bought the Washington Post instead of the Boston Globe which you could’ve had at a third of the price. Part of that reason is that this is a town that loves the news. Not just the National bureau, though, my book-selling friend, but the Local Metro.

2) This is a Town You Cannot Ignore

We are the Capital of the Western World, and the Capital of the United States. This is a city whose life, whose goings on, you cannot ignore. Yes, that means covering the occasional soul-sucking ANC meeting, or the occasional grandstanding Congressman, but it also means you get to write stories like Nikita Stewart’s profile of Jeff Thompson that made me buy a digital & print subscription for the first time in my adult life. While most of us are reading online in my generation, show us you’re worth a subscription, and we’ll buy in, even if we’re just cutting coupons on Sunday and clicking ads.

You cannot ignore the District and all who live here. The work of The Post has continued, since the days of Eugene Meyer, as “the newspaper’s duty is to its readers and to the public at large, and not to the private interests of its owners.” The public service that the Post has done through covering the life of this vibrant capital cannot be underscored, though the paper has gone through ebbs and flows.

3) This is a Town That Embraces and Eschews Change.

Though we’ll party at the change of an office, we’ll also rally to save an old building or stop a new amphitheater. We like change until we don’t, and there’s very little predicting which way it will go if you’re not paying attention. There are a lot of people who don’t take kindly to outsiders telling them how to run their lives, their neighborhoods, or their families, and I suspect your editorial page is going to be in for some of that over the next few years. But, if you play your cards right? In a decade or two, you’ll be absorbed into the collective, provided that you spend time here, and get involved here.

I appreciate that Amazon will require some of your attention. Then again, you probably know exactly what this Metro area buys from your company, which gives you some insight into our city. I swear, I only bought that movie as a joke.

Getting to know your audience, which you seem intent on doing, is going to win you some respect. Listen more than you talk for a while, and that’ll keep going. We know there are changes coming, and we know there are going to be missteps. Don’t expect a lot of leniency because you’re new at this. This is a town that will vote with its feet. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of other options, which is something you would benefit from. Don’t abuse it.

4) The Littlest Things Matter Here

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the District is that the little niceties are what people will protest loudest against. Mike Debonis (who you should give a raise to) wrote yesterday that he would miss picking up the tab and invoking Don Graham. J. Freedom du Lac wrote that he would miss the praise from Mr. Graham. You are taking the helm from a beloved local figure, and every little thing you do will be watched. I’m a Westerner, like you, where things are less high strung. Where memories are not permanent. Where even the accidental sleights are held for a long time. Learn from my mistakes: focus on the little things.

5) The Local Voices Are Good Ones.

There are a lot of amazing voices in the pages of the Post, and you’re going to come to know them over the next few months. Don’t be in a rush to move them around. Don’t be in a rush to be heavy handed. Watch and learn from one of our venerable sports franchises. When the Nationals, a 98-game winner, had a struggling closer, they bought up the biggest closer on the open market to bring in. It wasn’t something, necessarily, that GM Mike Rizzo (Marcus Brauchli is playing Rizzo in our analogy) wanted, but rather that ownership directed him to do. The consequences for Storen, and the Nats’ chemistry, has been startling this year, and it all came to a messy head last week. 

These are a good group of reporters and writers, these men and women. They are telling it how it is in this city, and doing it well. It’s not perfect. There will be bad moments. But they’re ours, and folks like Clinton Yates, like Adam Kilgore, like Debonis and Stewart, like Weingarten, and even Petula Dvorak, make this city into what it is. 

You’ve got a big challenge ahead. We’re all watching closely, because if there’s one constant in DC, it’s our grey lady. Like the statue of freedom that stands atop this city and watches over her, the grey lady on 15th Street is part and parcel of who we are, and how we see ourselves.

Good luck.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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One thought on “Five Things Jeff Bezos Needs to Know About the District

  1. Tom,

    Good advice. What do you think about those of us (dinosaurs!) who enjoy the delivered paper? Should we expect him to continue that part of the paper? Of course, our numbers are dwindling…