Is President Obama helping Amazon take over the universe?

President Obama gave an interview to Amazon's new Kindle Singles Corner Wednesday. Amazon's move into the world of journalism is raising eyebrows.

By , Staff writer

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    President Obama hosted the NCAA champion University of Connecticut Huskies basketball team at the White House Wednesday. He also talked to Amazon's new Kindle Singles Corner.
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Amazon has often been in the news – from President Obama’s praise this week for the firm’s job creation to the lament that it is putting independent bookstores out of business. Now, it is trying to report the news.

On Wednesday, the retailer conducted a sit-down interview with Mr. Obama, which it will feature in its new Kindle Singles Corner. Last month, it did its first interview for the Singles Corner, with Israeli President Shimon Peres.  

Media trends make such an expansion inevitable, experts say. With its Kindle tablet, Amazon has a product it wants to sell, and one of the best ways is to create exclusive content for it. But by dipping a toe into journalistic waters, Amazon could be contributing to the trend of offering newsmakers more and more “soft” outlets where they can get out their message without hard questions.  

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If Amazon's Singles Corner becomes a forum for longer-form interviews, it could be helpful.

“The impact could be positive ...  if the programming adds more detailed information to the current political discourse, versus the current, 30-second sound bites that we are accustomed to receiving,” says Mary Ellen Balchunis, a political scientist at La Salle University in Philadelphia, via e-mail.

But if the forum lobs softball questions, it could be little more than megaphone for candidates.

“The broader concern is that we are creating generations of citizens who have little if any understanding of the need for editors, fact checkers, and institutional vetters of information to make sure they are not just getting what people want to feed them,” says Jeffrey Berry, a political scientist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

The idea behind Kindle Singles Corner makes good business sense, says Paul Levinson, author of “New New Media.”

“People don’t want to have to continually switch devices to get all the information and  entertainment they are used to consuming, so anything that puts them  conveniently in one spot is what people will use,” he says. 

This is a logical next step, considering the founder’s vision, he adds with a laugh. “Jeff Bezos chose the name Amazon because the river is so all-encompassing.”

It also fits with the longer-term political strategy, particularly by the Democratic Party, to harness new media. The trend of presidents going around mainstream media to entertainment venues to get their message out has been expanding for decades, notes Professor Berry.

Consolidating all your news and entertainment into one portal is not necessarily good, he says.

“Technology is creating the opportunity for people to only listen to the information that fits their world view,” he adds. “When people base their understanding on only one world view or presentation of facts, this works against being able to come together in realistic compromise to accomplish real goals.”

Amazon will have to prove itself beyond a few trophy interviews, says Len Shyles, a communication professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia, via e-mail. He suggests that the company needs to be in it for the long haul and come to be viewed as a true alternative to other sources. 

The downside, he says, is that Amazon may come to have too much concentration of ownership, “which can lead to homogenization of programming.”

The same thing has happened in radio, where only a few major companies own and program stations nationwide. “When media concentration of ownership gets too intense, there is always a danger that programming will no longer reflect diversity, which is one of the goals of broadcast and now digital programming.”

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