The Importance of Being Credible


By Eileen Feretic

I got an email today that made me reevaluate what I thought about Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and his purchase of The Washington Post. The email, which came from colleague Paul Shread, editor in chief of QuinStreet's ITBE sites, included a link to a Post article about Bezos' meeting with the newspaper's staff, along with some highlights from the story. Of most interest to me was this quote from Bezos: "Put readers, not advertisers, first."

As a journalist—and a Post reader—I found that very encouraging and clicked over to read the rest of the article, which included another reassuring quote: "Bezos also repeatedly emphasized the importance of investigative journalism and said he was prepared to stand up to pressure in reporting stories that government officials might seek to suppress."

When I first heard that Bezos was buying the Post, I was appalled. I worried that the respected newspaper would not be able to continue its high journalistic standards.

These days, the pressure to increase profits continues to grow for all media outlets: newspapers, magazines, websites and television. That pressure can sometimes force publishers to put advertisers before readers, to tailor articles to suit a particular stakeholder, to write a story that didn't deserve to be published or to bury one that did.

That approach destroys credibility, yet it's essential for media outlets to be credible—to put readers first. In the long run, taking the higher road should benefit everyone involved. After all, loyal readers are the people advertisers want to reach, but to keep loyal readers, publishers must provide honest, useful information.

Bezos is saying all the right things, and, hopefully, he will keep his word—even if the newspaper writes a story that's damaging to Amazon. The credibility of The Washington Post depends on its integrity—and that integrity depends on its ability to write the truth regardless of the consequences.  

If we can't believe what standard-bearers like the Post and The New York Times publish, where will we turn for the truth?