Newspapers will continue as usual for now
by Agnes Blum
Readers of the Fairfax County Times can expect to continue hearing the familiar thump of the weekly newspaper hitting their driveways after the planned sale of parts of the Washington Post Co. to Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos.
“This is exciting news. We won’t see any immediate change,” said Ann McDaniel, a senior vice president at the Washington Post Co. who started her career as a journalist. “There’s always a future for compelling, accurate journalism at the community level.”
The sale, announced Monday and expected to be completed in 60 days, ends the Graham family’s four-generation ownership of the flagship Post newspaper.
In addition to the Fairfax County Times and the Post, the $250 million deal includes the Maryland-based Gazette Newspapers; the Express newspaper; Southern Maryland Newspapers; the Spanish-language El Tiempo Latino newspaper; the Robinson Terminal Warehouse and the Post’s adjoining printing plant in Springfield; the Comprint printing plant in Laurel, Md.; and several military-base publications.
Bezos, whose tech-savvy business sense made him one of the world’s richest men — he has a reported net worth of $25 billion — has said he is committed to quality journalism, McDaniel said. He has given his assurances that he will carry on the traditions and values the Graham family have fostered at the Post.
McDaniel told employees Tuesday at The Gazette that the sale did not mean any major changes, such as layoffs.
Keeping the smaller, suburban papers that ring Washington makes sense, said John Morton, who runs a newspaper consulting firm, Morton Research Inc., in Silver Spring.
“To some extent, The Gazettes, and collectively the suburban weeklies, are the most successful part of the company,” Morton said. “It’s more than likely Bezos will recognize that and allow things to continue on as they have.”
The most successful newspapers in the country have a ring of suburban weeklies surrounding them, Morton said, and those weeklies pack in the ads.
“For example the Orange County Register has a number of smaller papers whose advertising is 50 to 60 percent of the paper, compared to 30 to 40 percent in the ... Register,” Morton said.
The most important factor about the acquisition is that the Post, and smaller papers, will no longer be owned publicly, Morton said. That will free up Bezos to make investments in new and different ventures, especially related to the Internet, his metier.
“When you are marching to Wall Street’s drum, you have great restraints on your ability to invest in anything,” Morton said. “One of the problems with being a publicly owned company is that it pervades almost everything you do. It keeps you from improving systems and developing new products. You’re lucky if you can hang on to what you’ve got.”
Bezos, who has a full-time job running Amazon.com in Seattle, will become the sole owner once the sale is completed. The remaining parts of the Washington Post Co. that Bezos did not purchase, which include Kaplan Inc., Cable ONE and Post-Newsweek television stations, will get a new, still undecided name. It will carry on as a publicly traded company without the newspapers.