Yesterday, it was announced that Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post (the set of newspapers, not the whole company) for $250 million.
Tumblr: $1.1 billion. Washington Post: $250 million. Boston Globe: $70 million.
— Tim Peterson (@petersontee) August 5, 2013
So an institution that had potentially to be worth a billion-plus dollars only got $250 million because of their current struggles. How did this happened?
One of the main reasons is newspaper companies had to adjust to technology and they have not made the move quickly enough to profit. This reason is not stunning because almost every newspaper is struggling to adapt. Only the New York Times has met expectations on the newspaper and digital front.
The underlying reason the Washington Post is struggling is they have no idea who they are. In 2008 when Leonard Downie retired, the Post hired Marcus Brauchli from the Wall Street Journal as executive editor for the Post. During his tenure, he shaped the paper similar to the Wall Street Journal in design and content. Tony Kornheiser joked the Washington Post has become the “Wall Street Post.” It also doesn’t help talents like Michael Wilbon, Tom Shales, and others were leaving the Post for better endeavors. By lacking an identity, the Washington Post became a shell of itself.
Most people will be saddened that the Graham family sold their company to someone not only outside of their family, but outside Washington D.C. and they should grieve. However, with Jeff Bezos in charge, people should be rejuvenated. Bezos admits he has no clue what to do with the Washington Post, but he wants to experiment and see the Post succeed for the long run. Since he’s an expert on technology, he can start enhancing WaPo Labs to be more integral to the Washington Post and employees have to embrace experimentation and change. That’s the easy part.
The hard part is the Washington Post is a journalism institution and their main objective is news. How is Bezos, who has no journalism background except being in the headlines, going to bring back or get new readers of the Washington Post? Another question is how does he make the Washington Post not only one of the top nationals media outlets again, but one of the top local media outlets? That’s hard to answer and luckily, he would leave it up to to people who are experts in journalism to solve that.
In most cases, change is a scary thing because people do get comfortable for a long time when they (or it) become successful. That was the case for the Washington Post for a very long time but have fallen on hard times because they couldn’t adapt and they have no idea who they were. Bezos buying the Washington Post is what this media institution needs making the paper going to the 21st century. Eventually, people want great content and stories to read and if Bezos and the Washington Post do not solve that, then everything else beforehand is a moot point.