The Washington Post Co. has agreed to sell its flagship newspaper to Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, ending the Graham family’s stewardship of one of America’s leading news organizations after four generations.
Bezos, whose entrepreneurship has made him one of the world’s richest men, will pay $250 million in cash for The Post and affiliated publications to the Washington Post Co., which owns the newspaper and other businesses.
Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days. The Post Co. will change to a new, still-undecided name and continue as a publicly traded company without The Post thereafter.
The deal represents a sudden and stunning turn of events for The Post, Washington’s leading newspaper for decades and a powerful force in shaping the nation’s politics and policy. Few people were aware that a sale was in the works for the paper, whose reporters have broken such stories as the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandals and disclosures about the National Security Administration’s surveillance program in May.
This is just incredible. Incredible. But it makes sense. It really does. The Post‘s circulation and revenues have been in steep decline for a long time. Something had to give. As a journalist, I’m actually grateful that the Post was bought by a deep-pocketed owner, especially one who knows how to work in the current media environment. Nobody really knows the future of journalism, but I think it’s pretty clear that the Graham family had tried their best and failed. If I worked for the WaPo, I would be frightened for the future, but actually more confident than if the current management held on to it. There will be lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth among professional journalists, but the Post will survive, and that’s the main thing. The story says Bezos will leave current management in place. I can’t believe that’s going to last past a transition period.
It cannot be overstated what a big deal this is in the culture of American journalism. Epochal, I’d say. If you had told me when I graduated from journalism school in 1989 that by 2013, the Philadelphia Inquirer would be on the ropes, and the Graham family would sell the Washington Post, I would have not been able to believe it.
Take a look at this modern (and future) history of journalism and media. Fascinating stuff.
UPDATE: Gawker’s remark:
The Wall Street Journal sold six years ago for $5 billion; the WaPo is selling for 1/20th of that. That’s the direction the newspaper business is headed. It is becoming a boutique business for extremely rich people— a way for them to luxuriate in the prestige, and cultural respect, and political influence that newspapers still command, to some extent.
A reader wrote me privately yesterday and asked for advice about whether or not to attempt a career in journalism — on staff somewhere, or freelancing — if he wanted to raise a family. I told him by no means to do that. The industry is full of laid-off professional journalists for whom there are no jobs. Freelancing pays nothing. The industry is in excruciating transition now, and there’s no telling when this is going to settle down into something stable.