Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Washington Post changes hands

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon guy, has bought the Washington Post. I'll admit it: I never thought I'd see the day when the venerable Washington Post, the newspaper that cracked Watergate and published the Pentagon Papers, would be sold by the Graham family and be owned by a dot-com billionaire.

I feel a personal attachment to the Post. I was a subscriber for three years, when I lived in the Washington suburbs and worked in downtown D.C. The paper was in its heyday in the early 1970s. The weekday paper would land on my stoop with a thud like the dropping of a 100-pound feed sack. It was jammed with advertising, page after page, and filled with news. The classified section alone would be thicker than the daily papers I had read growing up in North Carolina. The Sunday paper would be an all-day read. I would get through a section or two before church and return in the afternoon for a dessert of section upon section, all well-written, fascinating and as satisfying as cheesecake after a fine meal.

When I moved back to North Carolina, I considered taking a mail subscription to the post, but a six-month subscription was as much as my weekly pay; I couldn't do it.

Like all print newspapers, the Post has struggled to remain profitable as advertisers and readers have migrated to Internet sites. The Graham family, which has pulled the Post out of bankruptcy and into the highest echelon of global newspapers, seemed wise enough to bring the newspaper into the 21st century. But the struggle must have been too great and the prospects too grave.

Bezos has promised to keep management in place, but he will almost certainly seek innovations that will return the Post to profitability. What that course will be, I don't know — and neither does anyone else in the newspaper business who has tried to find that key. But the news reporting of the Post must be sustained because without it, without the investigative persistence and the news analysis explained for a mass audience, government corruption might go unfettered and unpunished, and democracy itself could be in jeopardy.

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