Tuesday Reads: The End of an EraPosted: August 6, 2013
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)