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.
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.
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.
“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)
A former student sues her high school for bullying she suffered–first lawsuit based on new Massachusetts anti-bullying law
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)
Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.
It may be time for Edward Snowden to look for another spokesman/PR flack. Then again, it might already be too late.
Today Snowden’s designated media mouthpiece Glenn Greenwald gave an interview to an Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, in which he provided some rather stunning quotes about Edward Snowden’s ability to harm the U.S. government. Reuters picked up the story and reprinted the Greenwald quotes in English.
(Reuters) – Fugitive former U.S. spy contractor Edward Snowden controls dangerous information that could become the United States’ “worst nightmare” if revealed, a journalist familiar with the data said in a newspaper interview.
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first published the documents Snowden leaked, said in a newspaper interview published on Saturday that the U.S. government should be careful in its pursuit of the former computer analyst.
“Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had,” Greenwald said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro with the Argentinean daily La Nacion.
“The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare.”
I don’t know about you, but to me those sound like threats. Technically, they could be called “graymail” From the Urban Dictionary:
to force the government to choose between prosecuting an employee for serious crimes or preserving national security secrets
Libby’s lawyers deliberated on how to graymail the government in order to achieve an acquittal.
It’s not illegal, but it doesn’t seem all that “heroic” either.
Greenwald immediately published a defense of his comment at The Guardian: About the Reuters article.
When you give many interviews in different countries and say essentially the same thing over and over, as I do, media outlets often attempt to re-package what you’ve said to make their interview seem new and newsworthy, even when it isn’t. Such is the case with this Reuters article today, that purports to summarize an interview I gave to the daily newspaper La Nacion of Argentina.
Like everything in the matter of these NSA leaks, this interview is being wildly distorted to attract attention away from the revelations themselves. It’s particularly being seized on to attack Edward Snowden and, secondarily, me, for supposedly “blackmailing” and “threatening” the US government. That is just absurd.
That Snowden has created some sort of “dead man’s switch” – whereby documents get released in the event that he is killed by the US government -was previously reported weeks ago, and Snowden himself has strongly implied much the same thing. That doesn’t mean he thinks the US government is attempting to kill him – he doesn’t – just that he’s taken precautions against all eventualities, including that one (just incidentally, the notion that a government that has spent the last decade invading, bombing, torturing, rendering, kidnapping, imprisoning without charges, droning, partnering with the worst dictators and murderers, and targeting its own citizens for assassination would be above such conduct is charmingly quaint).
So what are the distortions? Greenwald doesn’t say. I had google translate the La Nacion article, and the quotes appear to be identical with those reported by Reuters. Greenwald doesn’t deny saying them; he simply states categorically that what he said “has [nothing] remotely to do with threats.”
O-kaaay…. But they sure do sound like threats to me. In an update Greenwald provides a quote in context which he says proves he wasn’t threatening anyone:
Here’s the context for my quote about what documents he possesses:
“Q: Beyond the revelations about the spying system performance in general, what extra information has Snowden?
“A: Snowden has enough information to cause more damage to the US government in a minute alone than anyone else has ever had in the history of the United States. But that’s not his goal. [His] objective is to expose software that people around the world use without knowing what they are exposing themselves without consciously agreeing to surrender their rights to privacy. [He] has a huge number of documents that would be very harmful to the US government if they were made public.”
Greenwald then tries to fudge the quote about how the U.S. “should be down on its knees…”
And exactly as I said, the answer about the dead man’s switch came in response to my being asked: “Are you afraid that someone will try to kill him?” That’s when I explained that I thought it such an was unlikely because his claimed dead man’s switch meant that it would produce more harm than good from the perspective of the US government.
But here is the original quote from the La Nacion story (translated awkwardly by Google):
If something were to happen, those documents would be made public. This is your insurance policy. The U.S. government should be on your knees every day praying that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something happens, all information will be revealed and that would be their worst nightmare.
Please explain to me how that is “has [nothing] remotely to do with threats.” At the point Greenwald has taken on the role of a combination PR flack and defense attorney. He spends hours on Twitter sending out links to every favorable story about Snowden and he uses his Guardian column to write critiques of negative media reports on Snowden and himself. Greenwald is way out of his depth; his defenses of Snowden and his giant scoop are getting increasingly irrational. How long is The Guardian going to allow this to continue?
Thursday Reads: Villagers Turn On Obama, Texas Tornadoes, West TX Investigations, and Boston Bombing NewsPosted: May 16, 2013
It’s beginning to look like Obama’s second term is pretty much over before it begins. We’re facing years of Republican scandalmongering and “investigations” of a president who won’t fight back or even fight for his own favored legislation or judicial and government appointments.
What is Obama actually doing every day? Does he spend the time he isn’t fund-raising or doing meaningless public appearances deciding which “extremist” to drone strike next? Because he certainly doesn’t seem to be governing.
Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows. All I know is that the Villagers are finished with him. We got the news yesterday from Politico’s top gossip mavens Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen in one of their trademark “Behind the Curtain” posts: D.C. turns on Obama.
The town is turning on President Obama — and this is very bad news for this White House.
Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama — and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.
Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up.
Really? if powerful Democrats weren’t “big fans” of Obama, why did they work their asses off to hand him the nomination in 2008 when they could just as easily have chosen Hillary Clinton?
Of course the “establishment Democrats” that Vandehei and Allen choose to quote in their piece are hardly current insiders, as Charles Pierce pointed out:
Not to minimize the inherent political savvy of Chris Lehane, one anonymous former Obama aide, one anonymous “longtime Washingtonian,” or Vernon Jordan — who, I admit, I’d thought had long gone off to peddle influence in the Beyond — but I think they’re pretty much camouflage here for the fiery tantrum summoned up by the authors.
(And, not for nothing, but “longtime Washingtonian” may well be the beau ideal of TBOTP sourcing. They should make it the company motto. And the two presiding geniuses are going to be shocked one morning when they look in the mirror and see Sally Quinn staring back at them.)
Nevertheless, the Villagers certainly pay more attention to Vandehei and Allen’s pontifications than Pierce’s. Here’s a little more of their venom:
Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.
This White House’s instinctive petulance, arrogance and defensiveness have all worked to isolate Obama at a time when he most needs a support system. “It feel like they don’t know what they’re here to do,” a former senior Obama administration official said. “When there’s no narrative, stuff like this consumes you.”
Even Greg Sargent acknowledges that Politico probably speaks for the DC establishment, particularly the corporate media.