From pillar to post

Jam of the week: “Sooner Or Later” by Trifonic

The changing landscape of the newspaper business was even more evident on Monday when the Washington Post announced that it has a new owner.

Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of online retail giant Amazon, bought the renowned newspaper for $250 million from the Graham family, who has owned the paper since 1946. Bezos will own the newspaper without the Amazon company itself having any role in the purchase. Washington Post chairman Donald Graham said in an interview that keeping the Post running was not just a matter of staying in the black.

“We knew we could keep the Post alive. We knew it could survive. But our aspirations for the Post have always been higher by that. So we went to see if we could find a buyer who would do a fair deal with The Washington Post Company for our shareholders, but also have – open the possibility for a better future for the Post,” Graham said.

During a discussion about why the Post thought the future of the paper would be brighter in the hands of someone else, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik said the paper has been increasingly fiscally insolvent. The New York Times reported that the Post has seen a 44 percent decline in operating revenue over the past six years.

Obviously, someone like Bezos who cultivated a leviathan of an online business would be an ideal choice for a family who is sad to see the Post leave their hands but wants a good future for the news outlet. However, the New York Times also noted that the Post has one of the most popular websites for news.

The changing landscape of newspapers is probably much more bizarre for those my elder. However, I still recognize that an institution like the Post, which brought us national revelations from the Pentagon Papers, to breaking the Watergate scandal and more recently, was also one of the first publications to print Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. The Post has been one of few newspapers that is more than just itself as a pillar of the fourth estate.

Bezos has a great task ahead of him. The Post already has good numbers online. For this to be a success story, Bezos has to forge a path for the paper that others have failed to create. Whether he does that by changing how the post appears in print, online or more likely, both, remains to be seen. Of course, I have to give someone like Bezos the benefit of the doubt, because if someone can raise the Post up to new levels, it would be someone who understands how to make a profit online.

I’ll be very interested to see what he does with the Post, even though I’m sure more staff cuts are in their future. I expect his changes, if they work, to ripple out to the rest of the newspaper industry. It might be a while before those innovations come to light, but for the sake of such an institution, I don’t mind waiting.