Buying the Washington Post

The end of summer is marked each year for journalism educators when they gather for the AEJMC convention.  It’s a jammed hotel of PhDs looking for jobs, scholars presenting papers and faculty talking shop.  This year Washington, D.C. was the city where the mass communication faculty gathered.  I kept hearing snippets of conversations with the Post and Jeff Bezos the centerpieces of the conversations.

There is nothing new about change in the news business.  But the sale of the storied Washington Post by the Graham family does shock.  You could tell the optimists from the pessimists.  The pessimists felt this wouldn’t succeed.  That the new business “disrupter” Jeff Bezos, the creator of Amazon,  wanted influence and Washington clout for his business ventures.  The optimists argued that the old media family was meeting the new innovator – it couldn’t be bad.

Count me an optimist.  The Bezos letter was moving. It stressed values and went out of its way to talk about Donnie Graham, the head of the Washington Post’s family enterprise.  The fact it wasn’t a corporate deal but a personal buy by Bezos made me think it was a nostalgic and rather quirky “buy”.   But, as well, it was a purchase with a passion for success.  I have always loved the Washington Post.  It saddened me in recent years to find it thin and bland.  I connect with it each day by email…but I don’t pay for a subscription.  I’ve been a taker.  I recently thought I needed to buy a digital subscription after I hit my max of free articles.  I didn’t.

 I’m hopeful. I assume Bezos wants to make money, but he may not need to make constantly growing profits. I hope he will be an investor whose first investment will be in the product – in the newsroom, in the reporters and editors, in the quality of communication.   I assume most of all that he wants to lead something he can be proud of.  Why else would he have bothered to spend $250 million?  That’s not a lot for a billionaire like him but it’s more than costume jewelry.  It’s the real thing

 The most moving article I’ve read about the Post shock is by Robert Samuelson, the long time Newsweek/Washington Post columnist.  Samuelson is a writer who has always seemed to be most happy in being old fashioned – out of sync with the modern, fast paced hip news scene.  He has remained true to his numbers, to his column and to his friends.  I can feel his pain…and his reluctant optimism in this week’s column.

I’ll start paying for the Post.  It’s worth it.


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