A$250-million deal that sent shock waves across newsrooms
The Washington Post, the newspaper whose reporting helped topple a President and inspired a generation of journalists, is being sold for $250 million to Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, in a surprise deal that has shocked the industry.
Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Co., and the third generation of the Graham family to lead the paper, told the staff about the sale late on Monday afternoon. They had gathered in the newspaper’s auditorium at the behest of the publisher, Katharine Weymouth, his niece.
“I, along with Katharine Weymouth and our board of directors, decided to sell only after years of familiar newspaper-industry challenges made us wonder if there might be another owner who would be better for the Post (after a transaction that would be in the best interest of our shareholders),” Mr. Graham said in a statement.
In the auditorium, he closed his remarks by saying that nobody in the room should be sad — except, he said, “for me.”
The announcement was greeted by what many staff members described as “shock,” a reaction shared in newsrooms across the country as one of the crown jewels of newspapers was surrendered by one of the industry’s royal families.
In Mr. Bezos, The Post will have a very different owner, a technologist whose fortunes have risen in the last dozen years even as those of The Post and most newspapers have struggled. Through Amazon, the retailing giant, he has helped revolutionise the way people around the world consume.
At the meeting, Mr. Graham stressed that Mr. Bezos would purchase The Post in a personal capacity and not on behalf of Amazon the company. The deal includes all of the publishing businesses owned by The Washington Post Co., including the Express newspaper, The Gazette Newspapers, Southern Maryland Newspapers, Fairfax County Times, El Tiempo Latino and Greater Washington Publishing.
However, The Washington Post Co. plans to hold on to Slate magazine, The Root.com and Foreign Policy. According to the release, Mr. Bezos has asked Ms. Weymouth to remain at The Post, along with Stephen P. Hills, president and general manager; Martin Baron, executive editor; and Fred Hiatt, editor of the editorial page.
Mr. Bezos, who did not attend the meeting at The Post on Monday, said in a statement that he had known Mr. Graham for the past decade and said about Mr. Graham that “I do not know a finer man.” Ms. Weymouth said that in negotiating this deal, Mr. Bezos made it clear he was not purely focused on profits.
The sale, at a price that would have been unthinkably low even a few years ago, represents the end of eight decades of ownership by the Graham family of The Post since Eugene Meyer bought The Post at auction on June 1, 1933. His son-in-law Phillip L. Graham served as president of the paper from 1947 until his death in 1963. Then Graham’s widow, Katharine Graham, oversaw the paper through the publication of the Pentagon Papers alongside The New York Times and its coverage of Watergate, the political scandal that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon and also a starring role for the newspaper in the film, All the President’s Men.
In an interview in July, Mr. Donald Graham was cagey about the family’s future in the business. “I’ll just fall back on the same answer,” he said, adding, “In family companies you have judgments about the family and you have professional judgment. The family control of The Washington Post Co., over the years, I think, has been a healthy thing.”
The Post is not the only newspaper to move to new ownership. The New York Times Co. announced early Saturday morning that it had sold its New England Media Group, which includes The Boston Globe, for $70 million, a fraction of the $1.1 billion The Times Co. paid for just The Globe in 1993. Ken Doctor, an analyst at Outsell, said The Post sale reflected a broader trend of newspaper ownership returning to local investors rather than large, publicly traded enterprises. “Newspapers are not really much creatures of the marketplace anymore,” Mr. Doctor said. “They’re not throwing off much in profits. They need shelter from the pressure of quarterly financial statements and reports.” — New York Times News Service