Jeff Bezos should buy a television news network
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If the media gods would grant me one wish it would be that Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Making space exploration cool again Sanders campaign to launch own 'newsletter with scoops' MORE buys or creates a television news network, invites CNN founder Ted Turner to help prepare a journalism and business plan and forms the highest-quality television news organization in modern media history.

We live in an age of widespread secrecy and selective leaks of classified information, massive doses of fake news, lavishly-financed political spin, hyper-partisan politics and character assassination. It's a cyber-World War III that pits dictatorships against democracies in wars of information. It's a world with a television news business that increasingly turns reporting into entertainment and a president who accuses the free press of being an enemy of the people.

There is both an urgent need and a gigantic market for a new enterprise that would lift the standards of television journalism to the prestige, credibility and clout it once possessed.

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There are some good people in television news today. But, as a whole, the profession has been trivialized compared to earlier generations of journalistic greatness. It's been sensationalized by news cycle obsessions and minimized in quality by nearly-universal corporate ownership that results in huge financial interests divorced from quality news reporting.

 

Repeated polls show that television news organizations have reached record-low levels of public trust, while the current American president and the current Russian dictator pursue similar projects designed to delegitimize and discredit the very foundation of a free press that is essential to citizens of democratic nations.

If Bezos would take a leadership role in television news, the business plan I propose is simple: Aspire to the role once played by legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, who was widely called "the most trusted man in America."

A Bezos-inspired television news network could focus on the straight, honest, fact-based, objective and thorough reporting of serious news that affects our daily lives and impacts life and death issues of war and peace. It would be a home to the most serious television journalists in the business who would be fearless in pursuing facts and reporting without bias in any direction.

Television news executives today would be astonished by the multitude of viewers who would respond positively to a television news organization they could fully trust, which would lift professional standards and public approval of television news from current levels.

The Bezos-inspired television news organization would have little discussion of the short-term news cycle nonsense and cheap sensationalism that permeates television news today. It would pay little attention to the paid spin dished by political operatives from all sides, and it would act like a truly independent "Fourth Estate," rather than a collaborator with political and financial insiders.

To the limited degree there would be commentary or opinion on a Bezos-inspired television news network, there could be segments featuring celebrities who are well-informed on issues they care about, representing diverse political views on serious matters. Stars like George Clooney and Clint Eastwood could periodically offer informed views on issues of interest, while professional journalists would be given resources and support for in-depth reporting and investigative journalism.

Why Jeff Bezos? For starters, Bezos is filthy rich beyond description. He made his money the old fashioned way — he earned it. Bezos can afford to take the financial risk of investing money in the highest-quality media that serves the highest values of democracy, as he has done with the Washington Post. When Bezos first bought the Post, many, including myself, worried he might ruin it because of his background in new tech with Amazon.

There is a phenomenon in media that I call "the dictatorship of the click," which is the willingness of some in the media to lower standards of journalistic quality in pursuit of the highest number of internet clicks and television viewership.

Under Bezos, the Post has flourished. He invested in journalists. He synthesized the high-quality distribution of news in print with an equally high-quality dissemination of news through the Post's website. He proved it is possible in the print business to be successful through hiring high-quality journalists and distributing their work through both the old technology of the printing press and the new technology of the internet.

In a world where we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is actually happening, a Bezos-inspired television news network with Cronkite-like standards would generate powerful ratings and attract substantial advertising revenue. Imagine a multi-media business model based on respecting the intelligence of the audience!

The Post is now engaged in a healthy newspaper war with competitors like the New York Times and the news section of the Wall Street Journal. Bezos could answer the prayers of many consumers of television news for fair and high-quality journalism. In the process, he could restore the days of a television news figure being considered the most trusted man — or woman — in America.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), then-chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. in international financial law from the London School of Economics.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.