Editor’s note: The announced sale of The Washington Post to Jeff Bezos, the founder, chairman and CEO of Amazon.com, will end the Graham family’s 80-year stewardship of one of America’s foremost newspapers. The 49-year-old Bezos, who launched the online retail giant when he was 30, reportedly paid $250 million in cash for the paper. By taking the company private, Bezos, a friend of the Graham family, will be free of the demands of shareholders and said management and operations will not be disrupted by the sale. “The values of The Post do not need changing,” he said. “The duty of the paper is to the readers, not the owners.” Katherine Weymouth, niece of Donald E. Graham, The Post Company’s chairman and chief executive, is expected to continue as publisher.
Below is a response from Matt Storin ‘64, the University’s chief communications executive and former editor of The Boston Globe.
Whether the purchase of The Washington Post by Jeff Bezos will revitalize the Post only time will tell. If Bezos is going to screw it up, the problem would come most likely in his tampering with the outstanding journalistic values instilled by the Graham family, particularly in recent decades. If I’m one of the Post’s editors or reporters, I’m probably hopeful but also a bit nervous.
The real winners in the Post-Bezos deal are the dozens of “major metros,” the other regional newspapers across the nation. Bezos can’t affect the journalism of those papers, but he could be their savior in absentia. Why? Because most of these newspapers don’t compete with each other, or with the Post. Their publishers can sit back (though no one in the news business can afford to do that these days) and see what the brilliant entrepreneur tries with his new property.
If Bezos can bring his golden touch to the Post, many other publishers will launch the same strategies. If he fails, the others will certainly be no better off — in fact pessimism may reign — but they’ll suffer no direct hits. Of course, the Post has certain advantages, and always has had them, from publishing in the capital of the free world. Washington is a town utterly dependent on the latest news. But in recent years, the Post has done no better than any other metropolitan newspaper and a good deal worse than some.
Personally, though I have enormous respect for the Grahams, I think this is the most encouraging development in the newspaper business since full-color printing. Though he didn’t invent the process, another iconoclast, Al Neuharth, advanced that effort with the founding of USAToday, a paper much derided at its inception. Like Neuharth, Bezos is a revolutionary, and we need a revolutionary to save the newspaper industry. Its problems today are far more severe than being limited to black and white photos.
Matt Storin, a former editor of The Boston Globe and former associate vice president for news and information at Notre Dame, is the University’s chief communications executive..