On the Sale of the Washington Post
I was not immediately stunned when the Grahams sold the Washington Post. I admit that up to that point, I hardly knew who the Grahams were, other than the people who owned the Post. I arrived on the scene late, in the year 2008 in fact, the year I turned 17.
My father encouraged me to read it, due to my budding interest in politics. "It won't be around forever," he said. "But you should know about what's going on in the world around you." I took his advice, and began to focus on more than just the Comics section.
The Washington Post did exactly what my father had told me it would do. I found myself able to keep up on the political conversations my parents had, and was actually ahead of the game when talking politics with my friends. The Post led me into the world of punditry, which should never be taken at face value, but is still informative. I gained a better understanding of events in the Middle East by reading the World section, as well as articles by David Ignatius. I learned the difference between the National debt and the deficit. I eagerly awaited Chris Calizza's "Worst Week in Washington" pieces, which always gave me a laugh. I even developed an interest in Sports, from the few occasions I actually reviewed the Sports section.
I still do all of those things, and probably, hopefully, will continue to do them. But I still did not really know, or even particularly care, about the Post's long history. The Post was in the now, and, as far as I was concerned, it was in the foreseeable future.
Over the past few days, however (mainly because most of the articles on the Washington Post were about the newspaper being sold by Katherine and Don Graham to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos), it became impossible to ignore the fact that the Post was under new ownership. I still might not have cared, but the event has highlighted, to me, the one fact I basically ignored over the past five years; That the Newspapers are in trouble.
Since their height in the mid 20th century, newspaper readership has declined, as an older generation died away, and younger people stopped reading. After all, there are so many other sources of information now. The Internet has made access to information much easier, and now practically everyone carries a cell phone on which Internet access is a given. FOX and CNN and MSNBC have given us all a 24 hour news-cycle that is dependably there, though they are rarely, in fact, dependable news sources.
In this modern age, news is immediate, news is tailored to our own biases, and, most importantly of all, news is free. That is what the Internet has to offer. And what do newspapers offer? They offer news that is hours late, and you have to pay for it.
Family owned newspapers seem to be faced with a choice; sell the newspaper they have owned for so long to the big companies, or go out of business. Such happened to the Rocky Mountain News in 2009. But the Grahams chose to sell the Post. They sold it to Jeff Bezos, who created Amazon.com, and who knows quite well how to sell things. Maybe that was the smartest thing they could have done. Bezos has said that there are no major changes to the Post coming any time soon. "Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention," Bezos said in a note to the Washington Posts employees.
Perhaps this is all for the best. The Washington Post has helped set the standard for honest, accountable journalism for decades, along with the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Times have changed, markets have changed, and newspapers are challenged to remain relevant in an era of digital information. If they are to do so, it makes sense to sell them to the men who helped create the digital age. I hope that Mr. Bezos makes the Post marketable, without sacrificing it's credibility.
© 2013 Nathan Orf