Washington Post sold to Jeff Bezos: End of old media or new hope?
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos says he's not out to change Washington Post values or micromanage operations. He has a record of investing for the long term and presiding over profitable enterprises.
There was shock and sadness in Washington Monday afternoon as headlines marked: “An era to end as Post is sold.”Skip to next paragraph
Should Issa lose House panel chairmanship for cutting off Cummings's mic?
Chris Christie CPAC speech: How did he do? (+video)
Hitler remark: Will it hurt Hillary Clinton? (+video)
House IRS hearing explodes. Why such anger? (+video)
George P. Bush wins Texas primary. Return of the dynasty? (+video)
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Word that, after 80 years, the Graham family would part with the crown jewel of its empire – the storied but struggling Washington Post – to the tune of $250 million rocked the city. The news that the buyer is Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, who despite his documented genius as an Internet commerce entrepreneur has no experience in traditional print journalism, sent politicos and scribes into analysis overdrive.
Does this transition provide a glaring sign of the nearing end for print, the demise of which has been heralded for at least a decade as other city papers have been sold by devoted family dynasties to journalism novices whose focus is the bottom line? Or, once the obituaries of the Post ‘as we knew it’ are processed, might there be a silver lining here?
Opinions are mixed.
“Bezos re-Kindles hope at WaPo,” wrote Politico.
The Atlantic called the sale, “A moment that will define an era’s upheaval in journalism.”
In the hours after the announcement, shares of the Washington Post Co. climbed to $599.85, their highest level in almost five years, according to Reuters. A glimmer of hope.
What seems to be consensus across these and other diagnoses, and is reflected in the market’s response, is that the paper, as it was, would not have lasted. It was hemorrhaging cash and losing readers. Growth in advertising revenue proved elusive. And while the Grahams had over the years sought to boost the company’s portfolio by acquiring other money makers – notably the test preparation outfit Kaplan Inc. – it wasn’t enough to offset red ink since 2008 from the newspaper division.
Physically, the paper was downsized. Domestic bureaus were shuttered. And a refocus on online traffic became paramount. No shock here, the whole industry is facing the same reality, and, though far from extinct, enterprise stories, elegant long-form works, and overseas reporting have begun to be eclipsed by blogging and vlogging and the quest for more and more content at a lower cost.
Still, of course, the paper that took down a president broke big news stories – recently making its mark in reports on the government’s domestic surveillance programs – and won prizes. All while it has faced challenges from newer, faster outlets, such as Washington rival Politico, to stay ahead on the city’s political news stories.
The announcement came as a surprise to staff. In the newsroom, there were tears and applause of gratitude, acknowledgements that for Donald Graham, chairman and chief executive of Post Co., and Katharine Weymouth, the paper’s publisher, options were limited.
“Everyone who was in that room knows how much Don and Katharine love the paper and how hard this must have been for them,” said David Ignatius, a veteran Post columnist.