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Shocker: Jeff Bezos, Amazon's Founder, Buys 'The Washington Post' | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Shocker: Jeff Bezos, Amazon's Founder, Buys 'The Washington Post'


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

It came out of nowhere, first hinted at on Twitter in early afternoon when a big meetiing in The Washington Post’s fabled newsroom was set for 4:15 pm. But no one expected this: the paper, and associated publications, are being sold to the founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, for $250 million in cool cash.

Bezos, 49, said he was buying this himself—it was not an Amazon purchase. He has never owned a newspaper. On the other hand, he has been fairly successful in the online world.

It came just days after The New York Times dumped The Boston Globe at an even lower bargain rate.

James Fallows looks at the end-of-an-era significance of the Post sale here, and adds: “I think I’ll remember where I was when I first heard the news—via Twitter!—and I am sure it will be one of those episode-that-encapsulates-an-era occurrences. Newsweek’s demise, a long time coming, was a minor temblor by comparison; this is a genuine earthquake.”  Alec MacGillis at The New Republic: Bezos is bad news.   Josh Marshall of TPM: Three cheers for Bezos and the Post.  David Cay Johnson at The National Memo: Major implications, including Bloomberg likely to buy New York Times next year.

For now, here’s the Post’s own story (see excerpt below). And Bezos’s “open letter” to Post staffers, which notes that they must feel “apprehension” but he promises they will stick to core journalistic values, claims no layoffs coming, and advises:

I won’t be leading The Washington Post day-to-day. I am happily living in ‘the other Washington’ where I have a day job that I love. Besides that, The Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.

By the way, his reference to “body parts” and “wringer” and “Mrs. Graham” goes back to the Watergate days and what the Post’s publisher’s “tit” was supposed to face.

One wonders: more books coverage in the Post now?

Among the many Post properties now controlled by Bezos: El Tiempo, the city’s leading Spanish-language paper. Not included: Foreign Policy and Slate and a few others. Perhaps they can work out a Newsweek reunion.

This quick, perhaps overly optimistic, piece at Slate suggests Bezos could be an ideal owner for a newspaper, since he has accepted relatively low profit margins in the past (whatever else you want to say about Amazon and labor) in favor of growth. But is that even possible for the Post?

Dan Gillmor tweets: “Contrary to Bezos’ note to WashPost employees, the org’s values do need changing in one key area: the opinion pages.” Meanwhile, Post columnist Ezra Klein tweets: “So far Bezos has been excellent for Wash Post traffic. If current trends continue, entire internet will be reading us by Nov.”

Excerpt from the Post’s own piece:

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. Few people were aware that a sale was in the works for the paper, whose reporters have broken such stories as the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandals and disclosures about the National Security Administration’s surveillance program in May.

For much of the past decade, however, the paper has been unable to escape the financial turmoil that has engulfed newspapers and other “legacy” media organizations. The rise of the Internet and the epochal change from print to digital technology have created a massive wave of competition for traditional news companies, scattering readers and advertisers across a radically altered news and information landscape and triggering mergers, bankruptcies and consolidation among the owners of print and broadcasting properties.

“Every member of my family started out with the same emotion—shock—in even thinking about” selling The Post, said Donald Graham, the Post Co.’s chief executive, in an interview Monday. “But when the idea of a transaction with Jeff Bezos came up, it altered my feelings.”

Added Graham, “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.”

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