- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2013

In a stunning coup, Internet billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com fame announced plans Monday to buy the Washington Post Co.’s flagship newspaper and its newspaper publishing business for $250 million.

The deal, which does not include many of the other properties owned by The Post’s parent company, would end a long era of control of the newspaper by the Graham family.

The transaction covers The Post and six other publishing businesses, including the Express newspaper, the Gazette Newspapers, Southern Maryland Newspapers, Fairfax County Times, El Tiempo Latino and Greater Washington Publishing.

Not included in the deal were Slate magazine, TheRoot.com and Foreign Policy, WaPo Labs and SocialCode businesses and certain real estate assets, including the company’s headquarters building in downtown Washington.

The Washington Post Co., which also owns Kaplan Inc., Post–Newsweek Stations Inc. and Cable One Inc., will be changing its name in the coming months, but no new name was announced Monday. Mr. Bezos is buying the paper on his own, and not as part of the Seattle-based Internet-sales giant he built up.

The sudden surprise sale immediately made the news organization a news item itself, prompting dramatic reaction even from the paper’s media writer.

“The deal represents a sudden and stunning turn of events for The Post, Washington’s leading newspaper for decades and a powerful force in shaping the nation’s politics and policy,” wrote Paul Farhi within minutes of the breaking news. “Few people were aware that a sale was in the works for the paper.”

The Graham family’s control had lasted for eight decades over four generations. Chairman and CEO Donald E. Graham revealed he felt “shock” at the prospect of selling the family newspaper, but said he wants The Post to do more than merely survive in the challenges of a print media marketplace that has been rife with bankruptcies and financial struggles.

The paper had suffered a 44 percent decline in operating revenues in the last six years, and a 7 percent decline in its print readership.

Mr. Graham hired the investment firm Allen & Co. to shop the paper to six potential suitors, finally settling on Mr. Bezos.

The company’s board “decided to sell only after years of familiar newspaper-industry challenges made us wonder if there might be another owner who would be better for The Post,” said Mr. Graham. “Jeff Bezos‘ proven technology and business genius, his long-term approach and his personal decency make him a uniquely good new owner for The Post.”

Though he has no experience in the news media realm, Mr. Bezos presents himself as a comfortable but curious owner.

“I understand the critical role the Post plays in Washington, D.C. and our nation, and The Post’s values will not change,” said Mr. Bezos. “Our duty to readers will continue to be the heart of The Post, and I am very optimistic about the future.”

He added, “I don’t want to imply that I have a worked-out plan. This will be uncharted terrain and it will require experimentation.”

Hundreds of news accounts of the sale appeared in the wake of the announcement, which brought out the drama among some analysts.

“So long, Washington Post,” observed Newsweek/Daily Beast business editor Daniel Gross. “Why are we so shocked at the news that Jeff Bezos is buying the Post for $250 million? Nothing about print media makes sense any more.”

Mr. Bezos, meanwhile, has asked Katharine Weymouth, Mr. Graham’s niece and the CEO and publisher of The Washington Post; Stephen P. Hills, president and general manager; Martin Baron, executive editor; and Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor, to remain in their roles.

The Post could have survived under the company’s ownership and been profitable for the foreseeable future. But we wanted to do more than survive. I’m not saying this guarantees success, but it gives us a much greater chance of success,” Mr. Graham said.

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