If you own a newspaper, try not to tell the staff you’re “committed to preserving quality journalism” and then say, “Don’t be boring.”

That’s what Jeff Bezos did at the Washington Post yesterday. I bet the 20 “hard-bitten” reporters in the room laughed (and groaned) inwardly at his amateur remark.

Jeff Bezos Point: A journalist writing a story on, say, changes in the tax code should never be burdened with an order like “Don’t be boring.”

That’s how Rupert Murdoch ruined all his newspapers including the Wall Street Journal: If the main command from the boss is not to be boring, the tendency for journalists is to add entertainment to the copy.

Rupert Murdoch This is why so many straightforward news items read like human interest stories (“Mary Jones was shocked at her IRS return when she noticed …”) with bouncy headlines like, “HORRORS IN TAX CODE PROMISED.”

Oh, well, consider the high standards of journalism today! It makes me proud to see media reports that Bezos and Bob Woodward ate “fruit plate, poached eggs, spinach, coffee and orange juice” for breakfast. Of course the tough questions went unasked (was the coffee decaffeinated or not?), but at least the Guardian printed Bezos’ second mistake, as follows:

“We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years,” Bezos told the Post staff, “and they’re the reason we’re successful: put the customer first. Invent. And be patient. If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at the Post, too.”

Yes, that’s why a shamelessly non-sales-tax-paying bunch of hotter-than-hell warehouses-with-ambulances-waiting-at-the-curb like Amazon loses millions and gets away with it year after year while damaging the retail book industry along the way.
And sure, the Post writers knew what he meant — report only the facts — but I don’t think Bezos understands how close his message came to “Give ’em what they want,” which almost always means, whether you’re making movies or selling newspapers, get out there and pander to base tastes.

As to Bezos’ comment that “he expected The Post to aggressively cover (Amazon’s) relationship” with the Central Intelligence Agency, why, you can hear those groans and laughter from here.