December 7, 2017; San Francisco Chronicle
Considering he is the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos’ $250,000 donation to Reporters Without Borders might not seem such a big deal—except that Bezos rarely funds anything. Though he is enormously wealthy, he is not obviously philanthropic, though he caused a frisson among fundraisers this past year when he asked people to suggest over Twitter what he should fund were he to ever fund anything. If that went anywhere, we didn’t hear about it.
Really, the most important thing Bezos has done for the public good was to buy the Washington Post and then leave the editorial work to the editors. At the time Becky O’Malley of the Berkeley Daily Planet wrote:
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My conclusion, Jeff, which I’m happy to pass along to you pro bono with no consulting fee, is that running a newspaper isn’t a business any more, but a philanthropic enterprise…As long as you’ve given up the idea of making money from owning the Washington Post, you’ve embarked on a worthy task. You’ve made your mark in business, and now you can secure your place in history if you do it sensitively.
So, how does this new gift to help Reporters Without Borders set up a West Coast office relate to the Washington Post, if at all? Three years after Bezos bought the Post in 2013, its Tehran bureau chief, Jason Rezaian, was freed from an Iranian prison—in part through the efforts of Reporters without Borders.
The thing about this gift, though, is that it raises the profile of a small but incredibly important group as far as global press freedom and the safety of reporters goes. Next to the organization’s budget, which was approximately $380,000 in 2016, this gift is proportionately massive. We hope there will be many more.—Ruth McCambridge