Thursday, December 12, 2013 6:10 AM
Published on: Thursday, August 08, 2013
By Brian J. Karem
The venerable Washington Post, star of stage, screen and a favorite of ink-stained wretches for years has apparently passed from the hands of the Graham family into the cupped hands of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com.
The sale is, of course, interesting for a variety of reasons. Bezos has publicly dismissed the future of newspapers and believes an all-digital future is in the works.
On the upside there will be fewer ink stains on the finger tips of the ink-stained wretches, but otherwise there’s probably some soiling of the big boy pants in the District as news managers wonder how or even if they will survive in the new frontier.
Indeed, gloom and doom may dominate the newsroom as those who fear the electronic future jump ship for safe public relation jobs, low paying blog writing assignments and sales people head to television and auto dealerships.
The newspaper actually sold for a fairly inexpensive price – and at $250 million is quite a bargain.
Had we but known, we would’ve taken up an extra collection at church and purchased it ourselves.
But seriously folks, what does this portend for the future of journalism?
Should we shake in our shoes and wring our hands while we gnash our teeth?
Of course not – the world will go on just fine and news will be reported. Maybe, just maybe the news will reported in a much better fashion.
I am not the guy to turn to with a furrowed brow and express feelings of trepidation.
I do not care.
In point of fact I by nature am an ink-stained wretch and an ardent reader of many newspapers. I am also a firm believer in the evolution of the news business.
Do not get me wrong. I do not share Bezos sentiment about the future of the printed word nor do I think it is very realistic to believe a printed newspaper will one day cease to exist.
Newspapers are very good snapshots of a finite amount of time. They tell you a great deal of what occurs in your community on any given day or week. They cannot be hacked and they cannot be changed once printed.
There is a great deal of value in that and I believe this to be an undeniable fact.
I am also a great believer in the reading habits of those who would rather leave a newspaper that costs six bits on the Metro rather than losing an I-pad or laptop.
However, the world moves much more quickly now than when the first newspaper hit the streets and thus newspaper organizations must cease thinking of themselves as merely printed purveyors of news content.
It is obvious the current owners of The Washington Post could never come to grips with the changing dynamics of delivering news content in the 21st century – else the paper would not have been sold for such a pittance or sold at all.
Some of The Post’s fiercest critics maintain the newspaper hasn’t done anything noteworthy since Watergate and has rested on its corporate laurels while letting the Internet wave wash them away. Others say it had no laurels upon which to rest. Still others are crying in their beer about the changing of hands of the behemoth.
There is hope Bezos will take the newspaper and experiment with it to find a business model which will allow the Post to continue for a long time to come.
I have seen this type of sale before. While working as a young reporter at the Courier Journal I watched as the Bingham family sold one of the best newspapers in the country to the Gannett company – which I always said was like watching your brilliant chaste daughter being defiled by the town drunk – but that’s another story.
At least with The Post a newspaper of substance was sold to a single man – not a corporation. It will be privately owned – also a hopeful sign. He won’t have to show quarterly reports of profit to stockholders and can liberally experiment with the newspaper.
That too scares employees of The Post. But, Bezos has proved he has business savvy; anyone doubting that is merely living under a rock.
The question is can Bezos turn The Post around – making it profitable while at the same time maintaining a level of journalistic excellence this country sorely and sadly needs now more than ever.
I’m sitting here with a half-full glass of bourbon on ice thinking about it.