End of an era as Graham family bows out of The Washington Post
New York Times is only major US newspaper still controlled by a family
The sale of The Washington Post to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos marks the end of an era for the Graham family. Legendary publisher Katharine Graham became involved in the company after her father bought it in 1933 at a bankruptcy auction.
In late 2012, Donald Graham, the chief executive of the Washington Post, met with the paper’s publisher, Katharine Weymouth, to look at the paper’s future for the next three years. Their assessment troubled them. “We knew we could survive, but we always felt that our ownership should do more than help the paper survive,” Mr Graham said in an interview Monday evening. With the agreement of the board, the company retained Allen & Co and had an initial round of discussions with six potential buyers. Then in July, at Allen’s annual Sun Valley conference, Graham met with one of them, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. com. Mr Graham liked what he heard.
“It was clear to me that he wanted to buy the newspaper for the right reasons, that he understood what newspapers do and what this newspaper in particular is important and that he would be willing to stand up for it,” Mr Graham said in a phone call. “Like any business person would, I have sought his advice over the years and have always been impressed by his decency and thoughtfulness.”
So after 80 years of family control and editorial leadership by the Graham family, the Post changed ownership yesterday, when Mr Bezos bought it for $250 million (€188 million). In selling to Mr Bezos, the Grahams left the Sulzbergers, who own the New York Times, as the last family standing in a club that once also included the Chandlers (Los Angeles Times), the Copleys (San Diego Tribune), the Cowles (Minneapolis Star Tribune), and the Bancrofts (Wall Street Journal). It also ends a kind of special relationship the paper has had with the nation’s capital. Washington has been through all manner of tumult and change in the last eight decades, with years of racial strife, the resignation of a sitting president, a terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the evaporation of a bipartisan political process.
But through it all, the Washington Post has been a source of constancy and coverage, a center of gravity and a force in the civic, social and cultural life of a city where many others came and went. As Mr Graham rode down in the elevator to the newsroom for the announcement of the sale, some of the paper’s reporters rode with him. One asked: “Is this bad?” Mr Graham shook his head, saying that, in the end, he thought the as-yet-undisclosed announcement would be good news for the paper.
Kevin Sullivan, a friend of the family, watched as Mr Graham told the newsroom of the sale. “There’s huge love for the Graham family and everybody feels sad that they are no longer going to be running the place - that’s obvious,” he said. “But there is this real sense that if Don Graham thinks this is a good idea, then I think it’s a good idea.”