‘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 family’s resolve to retain ownership was wilted by a sea change in the industry that laid many newspapers low. And even as most other newspapers decided that there was an urgent need to begin charging on the web, the Post held out, only recently deciding to join the rest.
For a time, the newspaper was propped up by its education division, Kaplan Inc, but when that company encountered regulatory and business turbulence, the losses at the newspaper – revenue dropped 44 per cent over the past six years – came into sharp focus.
Still, news of the sale and who was buying the paper was an extraordinary development in the newspaper industry.
Given that the Post still has potency as a political symbol, the fact it could be acquired by a man who made his fortune taking apart book-publishing – another traditional business – served as more evidence that the power centre in the media world has turned away from the east coast.
Technology and its leaders have proved time and again that they can set an agenda based on giving consumers what they want, not what some politician, or a newspaper, thinks they need.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the sale is that it happened under the watch of Donald Graham. All scions of industry do their time on the factory floor, but Graham had shown that he didn’t want to just inherit his enterprise, he wanted to earn it. He served in Vietnam and later joined the Washington police force to walk a beat before doing his stations in the Post newsroom and on the business side.
He was perhaps not the legend that his mother was, but to many he represented a certain kind of stubborn belief that good newspapering was its own end. In the popular imagination, journalism reached its highest and best calling during Watergate, when the Post and its determined owner, Ms Graham, took on a sitting president.
Surrender the crown
The idea that Graham would sell the paper, whatever merits the sale might entail, seemed as unlikely as Henry V giving up the crown. But on Monday, he seemed at peace with what he had done.
As he rode down in the elevator to the newsroom to make the announcement, some of the reporters rode with him. One asked: “Is this bad?” Graham shook his head, saying that, in the end, he thought it would be good news for the paper.
“It was clear to me that he wanted to buy the newspaper for the right reasons,” Graham said of Bezos, “that he understood what newspapers do and why this newspaper in particular is important and that he would be willing to stand up for it.”
David Carr is a media and culture columnist for the New York Times