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Lake Michigan

When e-commerce exploded in the 1990s, more than a few of us thought, “I’ll never shop on the internet.” Not only did we shop—we shopped enough to make Jeff Bezos one of the world’s richest people.

His purchase of The Washington Post this week for $250 million is a wonder. Can Bezos do for media what Andrew Carnegie did for the nation’s libraries? Bezos is known for taking a long-haul approach that was similar to Carnegie’s. Both men were willing to part with something even more precious than money—time—to get something more beneficial than a quick return on investment.

For Carnegie, it was all about making knowledge public and free. Bezos is said to be interested in preserving the American journalistic tradition. As one of the last great newspapers in the country dedicated to pursuit of the truth, The Washington Post was up against the same factors that threaten all media today—greed and consolidation.

The cost of real journalism

In an open letter to the employees of The Post, Bezos highlighted what he most admires about the Graham family’s leadership: “The first is the courage to say ‘Wait, be sure, slow down, get another source. Real people and their reputations, livelihoods and families are at stake.’ The second is the courage to say ‘Follow the story, no matter the cost.’”

Bezos says he intends to extend that philosophy—a slow, measured approach that’s uncommon in our culture. What we value instead is content—and lots of it, quickly delivered, gobbled up and soon forgotten. Real journalism has been supplanted by entertainment.

For anyone who cares about the kind of journalism that stimulates a real democratic debate and challenges us to think critically, Bezos’ acquisition of The Post is a sign of hope—but such bold moves don’t let us off the hook. We need to vote with our pocketbooks and give up the notion that we can be truly informed at no cost. Real journalism (just like the public library) isn’t totally free.

Average Joe and High-brow Sally, meet Amazon Art

The postscript on this story is another intriguing move by Bezos: he intends to sell art online. It’s not an altogether new concept. On a visit to Chicago last winter, I spotted an article in Chicago Gallery News about Cureeo, an online tool to bring buyers and artists together. At first, I thought, “Really?” Because who would buy a piece of art without seeing it? Not six months later, I had done it myself.

I met Nanette Winter at a networking event for marketing professionals. We became fast friends and I soon learned that she was a talented fine artist. On my first visit to her web site, I spotted this painting (the one at the top of this post) of Lake Michigan. Nanette and I struck a deal and I bought it based on the photograph on her web site.

It bears a remarkable resemblance to the scene my husband and I shared on our first trip to Lake Michigan. It made a meaningful birthday gift for a man who is difficult, if not impossible, to buy for. If the online photograph sold me, seeing it in person for the first time last weekend nearly took my breath away. Best of all, it got a wow response from my husband—perhaps the first clear winner in 23 years of gift giving. I can’t afford to buy art often, but for certain milestones, it can be the perfect gift.

With over 40,000 works of art for sale on Amazon Art, it will be interesting to see whether Bezos can sell screen prints and posters to Average Joes in the same marketplace with well-heeled collectors of high-end art. If I’ve learned anything, it’s never say never.

Would you ever buy a piece of art sight unseen? What are your best sources for balanced coverage of the news?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.