Before predicting what Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos will do or
should do with The Washington Post, let’s salute the Graham family.
Donald and his niece, Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth, as well
as the board of directors, took a hard look at the newspaper and realized
they had neither the management expertise nor the bench strength to
pull the paper out of its current quandaries, which are similar to the ones
affecting every newspaper in the United States – print advertising
revenues are down as is the paper’s overall print circulation.
So they did something few, if any, families could do with such long
ties to a business: They fired themselves by selling the paper.
I’m sure this was an emotional ordeal, especially for Donald Graham,
who’s worked at The Post for more than 40 years and been around it
since the day he was conceived.
It’s not unlike selling the house you grew up in: It’s not just a structure,
it’s where you learned how to walk and talk, played with your parents
and friends, celebrated birthdays and holidays and learned about life
from the people who cared for you the most.
Another reason to salute the Graham family is the manner in which
they sold the paper. It was done quietly and respectfully. The price
they received -- $250 million -- appears to be close to the paper’s annual
That’s far better than what a New York newspaper family recently did
with The Boston Globe, which sources say is doing more in annual
revenue than is reflected in the recent sale price of $70 million.
The only thing that could make this sale complete is Weymouth turning
in her resignation. She needs to do the honorable thing and leave so
Bezos can appoint his own CEO.
While there’s much to celebrate in a rich man like Bezos owning the
Post – it’ll no longer be hostage to quarterly earnings reports
– Amazon.com shareholders should be asking him a number of
questions: How does he plan to lead two companies, that are in
different industries, as well as on opposite sides of the country,
simultaneously? Can he be effective at both?
Sure you can hold conference calls and trade emails with your
executives on the scene, but there’s nothing like being there. So if
Bezos is under the impression that running the Post can be easily
done from his perch in Seattle, he’s in for a rude awakening.
He needs to gain the kind of understanding on the Post that he has
of Amazon by calling on the paper’s leading advertisers and meeting
the leaders of the community it serves, both in and out of the District.
I’m sure there are many suggesting Bezos’ purchase signals the death
of print. But I think there’s a very good chance he’ll learn the many
benefits of print, some that are unique compared to digital media.
Sure, he can borrow from the wire service/digital world and create
emails, if they’re not happening already, telling people what’s
happening in the world, and locally, for Post subscribers.
But he might also look at ways to redesign and reformat the print
product. Instead of a front page that tells readers what happened
yesterday, perhaps he considers a magazine approach to the print
product, one that analyses and speculates on what happens next
and provides a broader and deeper understanding of events.
Whatever happens, let’s hope Bezos relishes his newfound
challenges and makes The Post an even better newspaper.