Washington Post to Be Sold to Amazon's Jeff Bezos

Don Graham, Washington Post Co. CEO
Robert Devaney
Don Graham, Washington Post Co. CEO

The late Monday afternoon bombshell hit Washingtonians like a vengeful Washington Star.

The Washington Post, an icon of print journalism and of the nation's capital, is to be sold to one of the internet's first and biggest digital innovators.

The following is the surprise news from the Washington Post's website:

"The Washington Post Co. has agreed to sell its flagship newspaper to Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, ending the Graham family’s stewardship of one of America’s leading news organizations after four generations.

"Bezos, whose entrepreneurship has made him one of the world’s richest men, will pay $250 million in cash for The Post and affiliated publications to the Washington Post Co., which owns the newspaper and other businesses.

"Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days. The Post Co. will change to a new, still-undecided name and continue as a publicly traded company without The Post thereafter."

In an interview with his own newspaper, the Washington Post Co.'s chief executive Donald Graham told the paper Aug. 5: “Every member of my family started out with the same emotion—shock—in even thinking about [selling The Post]. But when the idea of a transaction with Jeff Bezos came up, it altered my feelings.”

“The Post could have survived under the company’s ownership and been profitable for the foreseeable future," Graham told the Post. "But we wanted to do more than survive. I’m not saying this guarantees success but it gives us a much greater chance of success.”

The soon-to-be owner Bezos sent a letter to Post employees. It follows in its entirety, as reported at WashingtonPost.com on Aug. 5.

To the employees of The Washington Post: You’ll have heard the news, and many of you will greet it with a degree of apprehension. When a single family owns a company for many decades, and when that family acts for all those decades in good faith, in a principled manner, in good times and in rough times, as stewards of important values – when that family has done such a good job – it is only natural to worry about change.

So, let me start with something critical. The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely. I won’t be leading The Washington Post day-to-day. I am happily living in “the other Washington” where I have a day job that I love. Besides that, The Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.

There will of course be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.

Journalism plays a critical role in a free society, and The Washington Post -- as the hometown paper of the capital city of the United States -- is especially important. I would highlight two kinds of courage the Grahams have shown as owners that I hope to channel. The first is the courage to say wait, be sure, slow down, get another source. Real people and their reputations, livelihoods and families are at stake. The second is the courage to say follow the story, no matter the cost. While I hope no one ever threatens to put one of my body parts through a wringer, if they do, thanks to Mrs. Graham’s example, I’ll be ready.

I want to say one last thing that’s really not about the paper or this change in ownership. I have had the great pleasure of getting to know Don very well over the last ten plus years. I do not know a finer man. Sincerely, Jeff Bezos

Likewise, a letter to readers of the Washington Post was sent by Post publisher and CEO Katharine Weymouth, who announced the sale:

This is a day that my family and I never expected to come. The Washington Post Company is selling the newspaper it has owned and nurtured for eight decades. In addition to The Washington Post, the company is selling Greater Washington Publishing, the Gazette newspapers, Express, El Tiempo Latino and Robinson Terminal. . . . The board of our parent corporation, including my uncle and company chairman Don Graham, made this decision with a heavy heart but with an absolute conviction that Mr. Bezos’ ownership represents a unique and extraordinary opportunity for The Washington Post and for you, our readers.

In Mr. Bezos we have found an owner who will continue the tradition that the Graham family started with the purchase of The Washington Post by Eugene Meyer in 1933. Since then, and most especially over the past four decades, The Washington Post has earned a worldwide reputation for tough, penetrating, insightful, and indispensable journalism. With the investment by Mr. Bezos, that tradition will continue.

Mr. Bezos is widely known, of course, as the founder and CEO of Amazon.com. He is a proven entrepreneur who, like the Graham family and this company, takes the long-term view in his investments. While he expects The Post to remain profitable, his focus is on the essential role that our journalism has on dialogue and the flow of information in our society.

Mr. Bezos knows as well as anyone the opportunities that come with revolutionary technology when we understand how to make the most of it. Under his ownership and with his management savvy, we will be able to accelerate the pace and quality of innovation.

Mr. Bezos has asked that I remain as Publisher and CEO of The Post. I am honored to continue in that role. Our mission does not change. Nor do the values that have been at the core of The Post’s enduring strength over many decades. Mr. Bezos shares the principles that have guided the Graham family’s proud stewardship of this great news organization. . . .

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Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:54:41 -0400

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