The Washington Post, iconic US newspaper that once brought down a president, announced on Monday it will have a new owner shortly, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.
Bezos, whose net worth of $25.2 billion makes him the 19th wealthiest man in the world, is paying $250 million for the Post in a deal likely to be wrapped up in the next 60 days.
The paper won’t, however, be owned by Amazon, the $119-billion retail behemoth Bezos founded and leads, but by a company dealing with his personal wealth.
The Post, which once had an exclusive arrangement with Hindustan Times, is the first major traditional economy news company bought out by a new economy firm.
Though an institution in DC and the country, The Post has struggled in recent years business-wise, posting declining revenues for the seventh consecutive year in 2013.
That was the trigger for deciding to sell the newspaper (with its many ancillaries), CEO Don Graham, whose family has owned The Post for 80 years, said in an interview to his paper.
It was not an easy decision though, he said in the same interview: “Every member of my family started out with the same emotion -- shock -- in even thinking about” it.
Accompanied by his niece and paper’s publisher Katherine Weymouth, Graham announced the sale to a packed newsroom of unsuspecting employees in the afternoon.
“I have a most surprising announcement,” Graham began. And it was indeed a surprise. He had kept the entire process so secret editor Martin Baron came to know of it only last week.
The announcement was greeted with shock and dismay specially here in the Capital, home to the paper, which made “gate” the essential suffix for scandals all over the world.
“Gate” comes from Watergate, a DC neighbourhood where the Democratic Party’s head office was broken into on the orders of president Richard Nixon, a Republican seeking a second term.
The Post’s expose was turned into a film “All the president’s men” by Robert Redford, making reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein into household names.
Bezos said in a statement he was aware of The Post’s reputation and will strive to uphold it: “The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners.”
Though the present management -- publisher Weymouth and editor Baron -- will continue, according to Bezos’s statement changes were not ruled out.
“The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners,” Bezos said in a statement to Post employees, assuring them of continuity.
But he warned of changes, without cloaking the implications: “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.”
But he was not about to get presumptive enough to claim he has solution to problems ailing the newspaper industry. Not yet. “There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy,” he said, adding, “We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.”
Sure. The world will be watching.