LOS ANGELES: Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com founder who helped bring books into the digital age, is going after another pillar of “old media”: The Washington Post.
Bezos, 49, struck a deal announced Monday to buy the venerable Washington broadsheet and other newspapers for $250 million. It was a startling demonstration of how the Internet has created winners and losers and transformed the media landscape.
Bezos made his fortune by pioneering online shopping, first by selling books out of his Seattle garage in 1995, then with just about everything else.
Meanwhile the Washington Post, like most newspapers, has been losing readers and advertisers to the Internet while watching its value plummet.
The newspaper, celebrated a generation ago for breaking the Watergate scandal, has been forced in recent years to scale back its ambitions, cut its newsroom staff repeatedly and close several bureaus.
Bezos is buying the newspaper as an individual. Amazon.com Inc. is not involved.
Washington Post Co. Chairman and CEO Donald Graham called Bezos a “uniquely good new owner.” He said the decision was made after years of newspaper industry challenges. The company, which owns the Kaplan education business and several TV stations, will change its name but didn’t say what the new name will be.
Bezos said in a statement that he understands the Post’s “critical role” in Washington and said its values won’t change.
“The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners,” Bezos said to Post employees in a letter distributed to the media. “We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.”
Katharine Weymouth, the newspaper’s publisher and CEO and a member of the Graham family that has owned the newspaper since 1933, will remain in her post. She has asked other senior managers to stay on as well.
“Mr. Bezos knows as well as anyone the opportunities that come with revolutionary technology when we understand how to make the most of it,” she said in a letter to readers. “Under his ownership and with his management savvy, we will be able to accelerate the pace and quality of innovation.”
The news surprised industry observers and even the newspaper’s employees.
“I think we’re all still in shock,” said Robert McCartney, one of the newspaper’s Metro columnists and a 31-year veteran. “Everybody’s standing around the newsroom talking about it. ... I don’t think much work’s getting done.”
McCartney said Graham told the staff he is convinced Bezos is committed to quality journalism and has no political agenda. There was a long-standing ovation from the staff after Graham and Weymouth’s remarks.