‘A very big Washington moment’ as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos cuts deal to buy ‘Post’
Newspaper had its highest moment when it took on a sitting president over Watergate
The Washington Post Company’s headquarters in Washington. The company is to be sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million. Photograph: Bloomberg
Their assessment troubled them. “We knew we could survive, but we always felt that our ownership should do more than help the paper survive,” Graham said in an interview on Monday.
With the agreement of the board, the company retained private investment firm Allen & Company and had an initial round of discussions with six potential buyers. Then in July, at Allen’s annual Sun Valley conference, Graham met one of them, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. com. Graham liked what he heard.
So after 80 years of control and editorial leadership by the Graham family, the Washington Post began to change ownership on Monday, when Bezos agreed to buy it for $250 million.
The sale, when completed, will end the special relationship the Post 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 president, a terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the evaporation of a bipartisan political process.
But through it all, the paper has been a source of constancy, a centre of gravity and a force in the civic, social and cultural life of a city where many others came and went.
“It is a very big Washington moment,” said David Gergen, who was involved in four presidential administrations.
“When Kay Graham had you to her house, it was a command performance,” Gergen adds, referring to Donald Graham’s mother, who directed the paper for more than two decades. “It was one of the last places where people with very different agendas would set down their weapons and come to talk. That has been disappearing for a long time, but symbolically, this brings an end to that era.”
Process of change
To many, the Washington that the newspaper once guided from family dinners and select Georgetown salons disappeared long before the sale. The rise of the website Politico – built by people trained and nurtured at the Washington Post – and other insurgents foretold a change. The days when people snapped open the daily paper to find out the things they should care about were long past, replaced by a cacophony of information sources, many of them far more driven by ideology than the Post.
In that way, perhaps, the purchase of one of the prized assets of American journalism by a talented entrepreneur from another coast is less of a shock than it might have been.
In selling to Bezos, the Grahams have left the Sulzbergers, the owners of 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). But even as those other families sold out to moneyed interests, it always seemed a safe assumption that the Grahams would continue to find a way to exercise a certain kind of stewardship over Washington.