Introducing The Jeff Bezos-Washington Post Conflict-of-Interest Crayon

A free tool for Washington Post readers

The Bezos-Post Conflict-of-Interest Crayon, for short, is a browser bookmarklet intended for use on washingtonpost.com or anywhere Post stories can be found.

The bookmarklet highlights certain words, phrases and names whose presence may indicate a potential conflict between the Post‘s editorial integrity and the financial interests of its new owner, Jeff Bezos.

For example, on any given Post story the Crayon would highlight the following words:

  • Amazon” (Bezos’s other company),
  • books” (an Amazon product),
  • Walmart” (an Amazon competitor),
  • sales tax” (something Amazon actively lobbies around), and
  • Barack Obama” (the greatest individual beneficiary of Amazon’s political donations),
  • Batman” (the intellectual property of an Amazon partner, DC Comics, to which Amazon has exclusive digital graphic novel distribution rights).

Here’s what it looks like on the page:

The Bezos-Post Conflict-of-Interest Crayon in action.

Get the Crayon

Anyone can contribute keywords to the The Bezos-Post Conflict-of-Interest Crayon dictionary by adding to the wiki, or by emailing suggestions to me directly at this address.

The code for the Crayon, based on this project by Roo Reynolds, is open source and available at GitHub.

Please consider it a work in progress.

Why?

I built The Bezos-Post Conflict-of-Interest Crayon in the wee hours this morning, in a fit of insomniac inspiration.

I read Tom Foremski’s excellent post on the weirdly uncritical journalistic reaction to the deal. Foremski succinctly made a number of points I never got around to making in my longwinded spiel yesterday.

It got me thinking, perhaps the world does not need more ill-informed speculation about what Bezos will do to the Post.

Perhaps instead it would be better to create something that literally reveals the seemingly countless ways in which the editorial independence of a great American newspaper is now at risk (or at least, in question).

That’s why the Crayon.

Ownership matters. Like many journalists I’ve worked for great ones and terrible ones.

Before anyone offers that lame retort, “every owner is conflicted,” let me say, well, duh. But some news company owners are a lot more conflicted than others and Bezos is more conflicted than most, simply because he owns so much stuff. On that basis alone, the Post‘s coverage now warrants extra scrutiny. There is also the compounding factor, as the Post itself has admirably noted, that Bezos and Amazon spend a whole lot of money lobbying the government.

A conflict is a conflict, even if Bezos keeps his word and stays out of the Post‘s newsroom. I suspect he will avoid outright interference. One day, though, he’s going to pick an editor.