The shocking announcement Monday left reporters and editors of The Washington Post speechless. It left Washington stunned.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, was plunking down $250 million in cash from his personal fortune to buy outright The Washington Post and some of its subsidiaries.
Bezos becomes the latest billionaire to venture into the newspaper business, following Boston Red Sox owner John Henry’s purchase last week of The Boston Globe and the burgeoning newspaper empire of Warren Buffet, who bought out the Media General newspaper chain and is buying up other newspapers on a regular basis.
“Buying newspapers seems to be the new fad among the rich,” financial consultant Arnold Block tells Capitol Hill Blue.
Bezos, the 19th richest man in the world, promised Post employees in a letter that the “values” of the venerable newspaper “have not changed.”
You’ll have heard the news, and many of you will greet it with a degree of apprehension. When a single family owns a company for many decades, and when that family acts for all those decades in good faith, in a principled manner, in good times and in rough times, as stewards of important values – when that family has done such a good job – it is only natural to worry about change.
So, let me start with something critical. The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.
I won’t be leading The Washington Post day-to-day. I am happily living in “the other Washington” where I have a day job that I love. Besides that, The Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.
While Donald Graham will remain, for the time being, the head of the Post, insiders at the newspaper tell Capitol Hill Blue that change is “inevitable” and coming.
Readership and ad revenue at paper has declined, an economic downturn that is hitting all print media but reporters and editors at the paper that has broken many news stories didn’t even know their place of employment was for sale.
So the news was shocking and many are nervous about the future.
Bezos acknowdged that in his letter to employees:
There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.
Capitol Hill Blue founder and publisher Doug Thompson knows something about takeovers by billionaires. He works as a contract reporter/photographer for a newspaper purchased last year by Buffet. He also knows something about Internet publishing. Capitol Hill Blue is the oldest news site on the web. Thompson started it in October 1994.
“The world, it is a changing,” he said Monday.