Tuesday Reads: The End of an Era

Katherine Graham meets with Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Howard Simons and Ben Bradlee.

Katherine Graham meets with Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Howard Simons and Ben Bradlee.

Good Morning!!

The big news today is of course the Graham family’s shocking sale of The Washington Post to billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon. This, along with the sale of The Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry and the sale of Newsweek to IBT Media, signal the true end of an era.

The days when Americans woke up to the daily newspaper on their doorsteps is long gone. The place to go for the latest news these days is the internet and print newspapers and news magazines are struggling to survive. But the Globe and Newsweek have been on the auction block for a long time; the Post sale was a complete surprise, even to its employees.

From David von Drehle at Time Magazine: A New Age for the Washington Post

It’s hard to startle the journalism business these days, given the scale and speed of disruption of the media industry. But the Graham family selling the Washington Post to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million is an exception. Few newspapers in the world are as closely identified with a single family.

The story of the Grahams and the Post used to be told in giant pictures on the wall of the newspaper lobby on L Street not far from the White House. One grainy photograph documented the day in 1933 when the brilliant financier Eugene Meyer bought the paper for a song at a bankruptcy sale on the courthouse steps. Another (a favorite of all of us who worked there) showed Meyer’s remarkable daughter, Katharine Graham, beaming as she left another D.C. courthouse in the company of her favorite editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee, after they prevailed over the government in the Pentagon Papers lawsuit.

Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee leaving the courthouse after prevailing in  the Pentagon Papers case.

Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee leaving the courthouse after prevailing in the Pentagon Papers case.

But the most important photograph, according to Mrs. Graham’s son and successor Donald E. Graham, was the one that showed Meyer in the company of Philip L. Graham, the brilliant and tragic husband of Katharine and father of Don. They were smiling like a pair of lotto winners, which they were. The year was 1954, and after years of effort and red ink, they had finally bought out their last remaining rival for dominance of the morning-newspaper market in Washington. As other families would learn in other cities across the country — the Chandlers in Los Angeles, the Coxes in Atlanta, the Knights in Miami and so on — dominance of the morning-newspaper routes would become a decades-long license to print money.

Philip L. Graham and Eugene Meyer look at the first The Washington Post Times Herald, in Washington, March 18, 1954.

Philip L. Graham and Eugene Meyer look at the first The Washington Post Times Herald, in Washington, March 18, 1954.

Owning the morning meant that the Post would thrive as afternoon newspapers fell to the competition of television news. (The last afternoon paper in Washington, the excellent Washington Star, winked out in 1981.) It meant that advertisers hoping to reach a broad Washington audience had no choice but to pay the Post’s steadily increasing rates. That day in 1954 was the key to everything the Post later became, Don told me one day about 10 years ago when we bumped into each other in the lobby. Watergate, all the Pulitzer Prizes, the foreign correspondents, the celebrity columnists — all of it was possible because the patriarch and his son-in-law managed to lock up the morning.

A couple more links on the Post sale:

James Fallows at The Atlantic: Why the Sale of the Washington Post Seems So Significant

I have known and liked Donald Graham and his family over the years; many of my friends in journalism have at one time or another worked at the Washington Post. My first reaction to news that the family had sold the paper is simple shock. But it is shock based not on my positive-but-not-deep personal connection to the paper and its people but rather on sheer generational disorientation.

Readers below about age 40, who have known the Post only during its beleaguered, downsizing-its-way-out-of-trouble era, may find it hard to imagine the role it once played. Over the past decade-plus, the New York Times and theWall Street Journal have been the national newspaper organizations. It already seems antique even to use the word “newspaper” in such a construction, for reasons I don’t need to belabor now. But their flagship daily print publications make the NYT and the WSJ similar to the Financial Times and different from the other remaining ambitious news organizations — Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters, the broadcast and cable networks, NPR, etc.
There was a time when you would automatically have included the Post in that first-tier national grouping. Other mainly regional or local papers were strong — the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, and on down a nostalgic list. But more than any of the rest of them, the Post was fully in the national-newspaper derby and measured itself every day against the Times in talent level, depth and breadth of reporting, international coverage, sophistication, and all the other measures of a nationally ambitious operation. People who have started reading the paper in the past dozen years — rather, who have notstarted reading it — probably can’t imagine this difference in stature. But it is dramatic, and real.
Much more at the link.
David Remnick at The New Yorker: Donald Graham’s Choice

“The pattern of a newspaperman’s life is like the plot of ‘Black Beauty,’ ” A. J. Liebling wrote. “Sometimes he finds a kind master who gives him a dry stall and an occasional bran mash in the form of a Christmas bonus, sometimes he falls into the hands of a mean owner who drives him in spite of spavins and expects him to live on potato peelings.” And sometimes, out of the blue, the ownership changes and you don’t know what the hell you’re getting in your bucket—fresh oats or cut glass.

At around 4:25 Monday afternoon, the staff of the Washington Post was summoned to the paper’s auditorium, a vast room where the presses used to be. The meeting would begin at 4:30 P.M., they were told. Donald E. Graham, the leader of the Graham family, which has owned the paper since Eugene Meyer bought it at a bankruptcy auction in 1933, stood solemnly before journalists who had been demoralized over the years by staff cuts, precipitous plunges in circulation, and endless dark rumors. It was a room full of reporters and editors, and yet, as one told me, “we thought we were there to hear that the Grahams had sold the building.”

In fact, Graham told them, in a voice so full of emotion that he had to stop a few times to gather himself, they were selling the Post and a handful of smaller papers—for two hundred and fifty million dollars, to Jeff Bezos, the founder and C.E.O. of Amazon, who is estimated to be worth more than twenty-five billion dollars. Graham asked the people there not to tweet, just to listen. The assembled were so stunned that when it came time for questions no one had any for a while; Graham had to urge them out of their silence.

“This was just plain sad. Now we belong to a guy who is so rich that the paper is around one per cent of his net worth,” a reporter told me soon after the meeting. “This was the family acknowledging that we can’t do it anymore and we have to give it to someone else. And we love the Graham family, we are proud of the family.”

It’s a long and interesting essay–read the rest at the link.
Neil Irwin and Ylan Q. Mui at The Washington Post write that Bezos paid more than he needed to for the Post.

The purchase price is richer than many of those paid for other legacy print media properties in recent years.

The New York Times Co. agreed to sell the Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John W. Henry for only $70 million. Newsweek sold for a symbolic $1, plus assumed pension liabilities, to billionaire Sidney Harman in 2011.

The Post “has a much stronger position in its market than the Boston Globe does,” said John Morton, an independent newspaper industry analyst. “It doesn’t surprise me that it would command a much higher price.”

Still, Morton suggested that the prominence and the visibility of The Post made Bezos willing to pay a higher price than would be justified by the paper’s finances alone. “I think probably Jeff Bezos was willing to pay a premium to make this happen,” Morton said. “. . . Bezos has enough money that if he wants to make it a hobby, he can.”

Interestingly, The New York Times apparently sold The Globe for less than they could have gotten. According to the AP:

BOSTON — Three bidders who fell short in their attempts to purchase The Boston Globe say they offered more than Boston Red Sox owner John Henry’s winning $70 million bid and criticized the decision of the seller, The New York Times Co., to make a deal with him.

Springfield television station owner John Gormally, West Coast investment executive Robert Loring and U-T San Diego chief executive John Lynch all said their groups’ bids bested Henry’s.

Henry agreed to pay $70 million to buy the Globe, the Boston Metro and the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, about 50 miles from Boston. The bid, announced Saturday, was a fraction of the $1.1 billion the Times Co. paid 20 years ago.

Lynch said his group offered “significantly more” than Henry and wondered how the Times Co.’s shareholders would react after learning the company accepted a lower offer.

“I’m just stunned,” Lynch told the Boston Herald. “I thought this was a public company that had a fiduciary duty to get the most by its stockholders.”

Gormally says his bit was $80 million, but he admits that local ownership will probably be better for the Globe in the long run. Perhaps the Times wanted to do us Bostonians a favor.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll just add a few more stories in link dump fashion.Mark Ames on Vladamir Putin’s “human rights” record: Snowden’s Savior Announces Plans To Build 83 “Concentration Camps” Across Russia (link unlocked for 2 days)

Nature World News: Enormous Sinkhole, Still Expanding, Creates Spectacle in Western Kansas [VIDEO]

A former student sues her high school for bullying she suffered–first lawsuit based on new Massachusetts anti-bullying law

WSJ: Boston Bombing Suspect was Steeped in Conspiracies

Wendy Davis: Ready to ride for governor of Texas? (Christian Science Monitor)

How the World’s ‘Most Biodiverse Place’ Could Be Ransomed for Oil Money (Miami Herald via PBS)

The Independent: Japan calls for nuclear disarmament at 68th anniversary of Hiroshima bombing

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.

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38 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: The End of an Era”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    It’s fun to remember the days when the Post was a great newspaper.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Ex-President George W. Bush has stent for blocked heart artery

    Former President George W. Bush underwent successful surgery at a Dallas hospital on Tuesday to place a stent in a blocked heart artery, a spokesman said.

    Bush, 67, was “in high spirits, eager to return home tomorrow and resume his normal schedule on Thursday,” spokesman Freddy Ford said in a statement.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    U.S. and Britain Withdraw Personnel from Yemen

    LONDON — After days of alarms and embassy lockdowns, the United States and Britain on Tuesday stepped up security precautions in Yemen, with Washington ordering “nonemergency” government personnel to leave and the Foreign Office in London saying it has withdrawn its diplomatic staff in the capital Sana “due to increased security concerns.”

    The United States also urged its citizens living in Yemen to depart immediately. Neither the American nor British authorities said how many employees were affected by the decision to withdraw personnel.

    The measures came a day after officials in Washington said the United States had intercepted electronic communications in which the head of Al Qaeda ordered the leader of the group’s affiliate in Yemen to carry out an attack as early as this past Sunday.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    In addition to the Hiroshima bombing anniversary, today is the 12th anniversary of the August 6th PDB warning “al Qaeda determined to strike in US.”

  5. RalphB says:

    Run Wendy Run!!!

    Snowden and his enablers are douchenozzles, IMHO.

    Great post BB!

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks! Which office do you think Wendy should run for?

      • RalphB says:

        Governor. Even a losing campaign could help her and the party a lot in the future, provided she can stay in the public eye.

      • RalphB says:

        Democrats here need a passionate, charismatic leader. She’s got “It” in spades.

        Texas Tribune: Davis Hints at Governor’s Race, Fuels Excitement

        • RalphB says:

          “On a scale of one to ten, the enthusiasm level is about a 42,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “People are just really excited about her candidacy to a point I’ve never seen before. I’ve been involved in this business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen Democrats so passionate about a candidate that has not announced for governor or any other position.”

  6. bostonboomer says:

    DEA agents instructed to cover up source of evidence used to prosecute Americans.

    (Reuters) – A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

    Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

    The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

    “I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.

    I have to admit that Snowden’s defection has forced the media to investigate NSA spying, despite the fact that Snowden’s leaks haven’t been that earth-shaking and Greenwald’s claims have been so over-the-top.

    • RalphB says:

      Now that’s a scoop. The DEA should be slapped down and hard. Wonder if this comes from the NSA or the DEA’s own spy operations?

      • bostonboomer says:

        From the article, it sounds like NSA data piped to another agency and then passed on to local PDs. Of course the NYPD has developed its own surveillance system. I wonder how many other PDs have done that?

        Remember when the 9/11 commission recommended tearing down the “walls” separating govt agencies? I’ll bet in the end Congress will put the walls back up.

  7. peej says:

    Oh BB,

    My heart sinks. The end of an era has finally been stamped. We are now in the era of anti-journalism for certain. We can see how devalued journalism has become in the 250 million dollar price tag for the Washington Post, which I thought was low – but apparently higher than Bezos needed to pay. I find that figure discordant given the necessity for good journalism today. I should think the market value for journalism would be quite high. 250 million, I suppose, represents solely market value, and like so many other spheres necessary for quality of life and a robust economy/democracy – intrinsic value loses out to market value every time.

    The retrospective reminds me of a Dobie Gillis episode that aired this weekend. In one scene Dobie and his parents sat around the table eating breakfast engaged in morning table talk. Dobie’s father became agitated, frustrated, and flustered because all he wanted was peace and quiet during his ritual reading of the morning paper. That in itself is a filter which speaks to how more complicated our daily existences have become, let alone the overarching struggle of subsistence. How those days are gone indeed. Not that I’m romanticizing the past, however, the pace and quality of life when a single income could get you a house, car, college education, etc. have also gone the way of the morning paper and for the same reason, I think.

    A funny side note on Dobie Gillis – it was kind of a Dobie Gillis festival this weekend, one of the episodes, possibly the one referenced here, guest starred Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty.

    Haven’t gotten to your other links yet.

    • ecocatwoman says:

      peej, I thought Tuesday Weld & Warren Beatty were on several episodes. I checked imdb (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052490/fullcredits) and Tuesday (as Thalia Menniger) was on 15 episodes. Warren was only on 5. I loved that show. I was a pre-teen when the show originated.

      • peej says:

        I’m not familiar enough with Dobie Gillis, certainly not well enough to have known whether Weld and Beatty were regulars or not. I saw it for the first time this weekend. So, seeing them was kind of fun for me. I am not too savvy on popular culture past or present, ecocat. Please forgive me. My blistering ignorance in this regard will no doubt shine through on occasion. :)

        You were a pre-teen when Dobie Gillis originally aired? You’re familiar, then, with the pace and complexity of our daily lives that I allude to? I wasn’t around for Dobie Gillis, but the pace etc. represented in that episode matched how I recall growing up. I guess, I often muse on the idea that given where we are today (in terms of quality of life et cetera), we haven’t, by some measures, “progressed” as a nation at all. Again, I’m not trying to romanticize the past. More so, the idea that a family can not only survive but thrive on a single income is something I think we shouldn’t lose sight of. Perhaps even it is an economic goal we should strive toward. Not because of “traditional” family values, but because of the inherent economic stability embedded therein. Also, easing the intense competitive pressure that’s driving this nation into the ground, the societal expectation which values work life more than individual lives independent of how much they contribute to the economy.

        A critical distinction: though I’m not familiar with Dobie Gillis or television culture of the day, I am familiar with some of the other culture still thriving at the time – art, literature, and classical music for instance. Dali and Picasso were still around. Pablo Casals and Glenn Gould are good examples too. Flannery O’Connor died in 1964, but I’d include her here as representative of a valued literary tradition – add Eudora Welty as another example. Our national culture valued and accommodated art and artists. Now, individuals are valued only for their worth as an economic cog. I’d like to see that value system shift back. This JFK speech speaks to much of what I’m attempting to articulate:

        http://www.arts.gov/about/Kennedy.html

        • bostonboomer says:

          Tuesday Weld was in every show. She was Dobie’s dream girl. I watched the show regularly as a kid. Beatty was one of the rich kids. He may have only been on for one season.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Many_Loves_of_Dobie_Gillis

        • ecocatwoman says:

          No apologies necessary peej where tv is concerned. I’ve been a tv junkie since I was a toddler and realize that’s just one of my abnormalities. Of course, back then there were a max of 3 stations and I had to watch what my parents watched – except for Saturday mornings. I would watch old westerns and cartoons while they slept in.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Newspapers brought it on themselves. They should have been investing in investigative journalism and foreign reporting as well as developing new ways to attract on-line advertising, but they haven’t. Instead they have institution paywalls to try to get money from readers. Newspapers are pretty much irrelevant when people can get the very latest news on the internet. There is plenty of good reporting on the internet. I’m not crying for the Washington Post–it’s been decades since it was a great paper.

      • peej says:

        Agreed. Traditional print did not respond well to changing economic climates. Yet, don’t you think there’s also a concomitant attitude that is lost in how we value journalism?

  8. ecocatwoman says:

    Great post bb. It’s sad to see newspapers struggling to survive, but taking a longer look at how humans communicate, it was inevitable. Smoke signals, town criers, pony express, telegrams and so on. I haven’t read a newspaper in years nor do I watch much local news.

    I wanted to share a terrific interview on Diane Rehm’s show today. Her guest was Tony Juniper, who is Prince Charles’ environmental adviser. Juniper has a new book, What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? The title is misleading because it’s meant to counterbalance the Right’s BS about drilling, mining, deforestation, pesticide/herbicide use are good for us & the planet & they produce great economic gain. It is a show well worth listening to: http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2013-08-06/environmental-outlook-what-has-nature-ever-done-us-tony-juniper

    Ya’ll have a terrific day.

  9. dakinikat says:

    Op Ed from the Baton Rouge Advocate:

    http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/6651136-123/stephanie-grace-jindals-alternate-universe

    But back to Jindal and his RedState appearance.

    It went pretty much the way these speeches to national groups tend to go.

    Jindal touted accomplishments that have drawn national praise, even if they’ve met with some skepticism here at home. He talked about upping disclosure requirements for the Legislature (but skipped the part about his administration’s aversion to executive branch transparency). He boasted of his wide-ranging school reform efforts, but didn’t bring up the state Supreme Court’s rejection of several key provisions.

    He also delivered his share of crowd-pleasing one-liners, about no longer paying teachers based on “how long they’ve been breathing rather than how well they’re doing,” and about the famous quip by his go-to foil, President Barack Obama, concerning people in conservative strongholds who cling to their guns and religion. “I think he meant that to be an insult,” Jindal said, but “I took that as a compliment.”

    The crowd mostly loved it, even if Jindal did run into trouble in the question and answer session, when he had to defend Louisiana’s participation, along with most other states, in adopting Common Core standards for schools. This is a hot topic these days among some conservatives who see Common Core as an example of big government overreach. Jindal carefully threaded the rhetorical needle, embracing higher goals and also insisting he opposes federally mandated curricula for local schools.

    Perhaps more important to Jindal’s grand plan is that the gathering’s host, blogger, television pundit and RedState editor Erick Erickson also loved it. Erickson, who has done more than his share to pump up Jindal’s reputation in the conservative movement, called him the undisputed leader of state party and the father of the conservative renaissance in Louisiana.

    The reality, of course, is more complex. Jindal’s problems with legislative fiscal hawks — whom Erickson, in his blog, has labeled “chicken hawks” — stems from his predilection for plugging budget holes with one-time money, not, as Erickson has argued, from the hawks’ eagerness to team up with Democrats to raise taxes. His resistance to jumping into state-level races also hints at his strained relations with fellow Republicans, including U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a big Cassidy backer who failed to win Jindal’s endorsement in his own re-election big three years ago.

    But then, things are always simpler in the alternate universe of national politics. No wonder Jindal likes hanging out there.

    • dakinikat says:

      Crossfire’s conservative hosts will be former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New York Daily News columnist S.E. Cupp; liberal hosts will be Obama’s former deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter and Obama’s former green jobs adviser Van Jones. Veteran CNN producer Rebecca Kutler is serving as executive producer; former POLITICO video director David Chalian will serve as supervising producer.