People in the newspaper business are doing a lot of navel-gazing since the news came out Monday that Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, has agreed to buy The Washington Post, and some other newspapers the Post owns, for $250 million. Not too many years ago, the Post company would have fetched three or four times that money. Oof.
The Post gained much fame for being the paper that broke the Watergate story. A movie, “All the President’s Men,” was made about it. Facsimiles of the Post’s newsroom were part of the set. A lot of well-meaning people went into journalism as a result of that movie, sure they could save the world by bringing down a president, or at least a governor or two. Before the movie, however, was the book by the same name, by reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who did most of the heavy lifting on the Watergate stories. It was a time when journalists were celebrities.
But that was 40 years ago. This is now. The Post has morphed back into being your run-of-the-mill big business — one that has fallen on hard times. It is said to have lost $55 million last year. That was better, though, than the $200 million it lost in 2008, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Why would Bezos buy the Post? Maybe for the same reason another person might buy a baseball team. He just has an idea of how to make it better by using the business knowledge and experience he has accumulated in building his high-tech marketing firm. Also, it will make him pretty darned influential in Washington, D.C., which still regards the Post as the national newspaper.
He believes the business model of the Post will have to change, and that’s probably true. But he already no doubt has noticed that from 2003 to 2007, the Post earned profits of more than $500 million. It also has won more than its share of Pulitzer Prizes. Maybe $250 million will turn out to be one heck of a bargain.