Reince Priebus speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Courtesy of Flickr)
The big media story this week is not the purchase of The Washington Post by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
For as long as there have been newspapers, rich people have bought them as toys and tools.
So, while it is significant that Bezos bought the Post for $250 million, this is not exactly a definitional development on the media landscape.
Bezos is not even the only rich guy to buy a major metropolitan daily paper in the past week. It was announced on Saturday that Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry has purchased another of the twenty-five largest dailies in the United States, The Boston Globe, for $70 million.
While it cannot be said for certain regarding Bezos and Henry, the best bet is that these very wealthy men will run their papers as side projects—Bezos, a little less hands-on; Henry, a little more hands-on—in the tradition of another wealthy newspaper purchaser, Warren Buffett. The fact that these guys don’t need big profits from newspapers that no longer post big profits actually provides a measure of insulation that financially struggling metro dailies owned by publicly traded companies lack. And while Bezos, Henry and Buffett have political pedigrees, none has the take-no-prisoners edge that has made the prospect of purchases of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune by the brothers Koch so unsettling to so many of the free-press faithful.
If new owners maintain old papers pretty much as they have been, that’s not dramatic news. Indeed, the only real “news” may be that newspapers, which cannot survive as publicly traded entities where stockholders demand big payouts, might have a future as the vanity projects of rich people. Or even better, as nonprofit entities, cooperatives and public trusts.
So if the sale of the Post is not as dramatic a development as might initially seem to be the case, what is?