Mixed feelings at ‘Washington Post’ buyout
Announcement of sale of legendary newspaper takes Washington by surprise
Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, who has bought the ‘Washington Post’ for $250 million. Photograph: J Emilio Flores/The New York Times
Shares in the Washington Post company leapt to a five-year high yesterday as the paper’s journalists reacted to its $250 million sale to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with a mixture of sentiment.
Though Bezos, who is buying the Post with his own money, is thought unlikely to interfere editorially, his move has caused anxiety among journalists at the paper, uncertain of his long-term motives.
“Jeff Bezos seems to me exactly the kind of inventive and innovative choice needed to bring about a recommitment to great journalism,” said legendary Post reporter Carl Bernstein, who helped to define the paper with his co-reporting of the Watergate scandal.
But the columnist Gene Weingarten published an open letter on the paper’s website calling on its new owner to respect its editorial boundaries and resist the temptation to interfere in ways other corporate owners of newspapers have done. “You are obviously a good businessman, and you are said to be a visionary. I hope you have a clear vision of where to take this remarkable enterprise,” he said.
Monday’s announcement of the sale took Washington completely by surprise. Few had known of it in advance: the journalist who wrote the story revealing the sale on the Post’s website said he’d been sworn to secrecy since being told about it on Sunday. Class B shares rose 4.5 per cent to $594.33.
Donald Graham, the senior Graham family member on the board, said, while it was a difficult decision for the family, it was the inevitable one if the Post was to survive. “We were in our seventh consecutive year of declining revenues, and there was the question of, ‘what could we do?’,” he told the New Yorker.
Not everyone in Washington regards the Grahams as the benevolent custodians of newspaper independence DC folklore maintains they are.
Damon Silvers, policy director of union umbrella group the AFL-CIO, points out that the family have been an integral part of the Washington establishment for decades, leading to political bias.
“I am not sure that anything significant has changed here in terms of ideology,” he says. “The Grahams used the paper as an instrument of influence-peddling too, in that their main aim was to court power.”
Union activists are also wary of Amazon’s chequered history of labour relations, claiming it has taken an aggressive stance against attempts to organise workers in its vast distribution centres.
Elsewhere, the growing power of Amazon as a lynchpin not just of the book trade, but also much of the retail and cloud computing industries, raised concerns that Bezos is consolidating a commercial dominance that will be hard to counter.
– (Guardian news service)