Legacy media musical chairs

Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post, and that's just Monday's media sale announcement

What a weekend. The news that the New York Times Company-owned Boston Globe was sold to Red Sox owner John Henry for $70 million, just 6 percent of the $1.1 billion it sold to NYTC for in 1993, broke on Saturday. (Adjusted for inflation, the Times Company is selling it for 4 percent of what it paid, though the company did earn hundreds of millions of dollars from the Globe throughout its ownership.)

Within hours, news broke that digital-only Newsweek, owned by Barry Diller’s IAC since 2010, was sold to the International Business Times, a digital media company, removing the legacy outlet from the stewardship of Tina Brown.

Then, at 4:15 Monday afternoon, Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth—profiled as the 4th-generation family member to hold the role in The New York Times on Friday—reportedly notified the staff that there would be an all-company meeting 15 minutes later. There, she announced that the paper is being sold to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million. The sale will end the Graham family’s 80-year tenure overseeing the paper, which saw a 46 percent decline in operating revenue in the past six years, according to WaPo’s own coverage of the announcement.

It’s not surprising nowadays to see media properties swapped throughout the wealth ecosystem—Warren Buffett buys newspapers on a whim; AOL ate The Huffington Post; Rupert Murdoch started the buying rush when he scooped up the Wall Street Journal. Barry Diller had long been expressing the desire to unload Newsweek, and the Globe was first put up for sale in 2009.

But WaPo, despite its longish history of essentially being subsidized by the Kaplan test prep company, seemed different. There were no red flags—the Times’s Weymouth profile ran three days ago. The paper is about a year into the tenure of new editor Marty Baron, and it has been in the news for beefing up its digital presence in the Wonkblog model, five months after putting up a paywall. In other words, the Post has been doing the things that media companies do nowadays to head toward steady financial footing.

“The Post could have survived under the company’s ownership and been profitable for the foreseeable future,” Washington Post Company CEO Don Graham told Post reporter Paul Farhi. “But we wanted to do more than survive. I’m not saying this guarantees success, but it gives us a much greater chance of success.”

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Kira Goldenberg was an associate editor at CJR from 2012-2015. Follow her on Twitter at @kiragoldenberg. Tags: , , ,