When the descendants of Eugene Meyer sold The Washington Post on Monday to Amazon's Jeff Bezos after four generations of ownership, the once long list of iconic newspaper families dropped down to one: The Sulzbergers.
Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the chairman of the New York Times Company, recently battled down rumors of a deep-pocketed suitor like billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg making a play for the paper that's been in his family's hands for five generations. "The Times," he emphatically told The Daily Beast last week, "is Not. For. Sale."
But neither was the Post -- at least not publicly. Donald Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Co. and son of the late Katharine Graham, stunned staffers Monday by announcing a blockbuster deal that now raises questions about whether the Ochs-Sulzberger clan, dealing with similar industry pressures and digital disruption, might be more inclined to sell.
In interviews with The Huffington Post, analysts and Times watchers say the sale of The Washington Post -- and how that iconic newspaper brand performs under its new owner -- will be closely scrutinized by the Sulzberger clan. While no sudden moves are expected, any initiatives undertaken by Bezos to inject new life into The Washington Post are likely to influence how that family thinks about their long stewardship of the nation's paper of record.
"You had two premier newspaper families left in the U.S., the Sulzbergers and the Grahams," said Ken Doctor, an Outsell media analyst and author of the Newsonomics site. "When one of them folds and says, 'This is too much for us,' it's going to send chills to the other one."
Doctor noted that the New York Times Company has not issued a dividend to its owners since 2009. After a prolonged period of declining revenue, the company appears to have recently stabilized its finances, posting only a small decline in revenue last quarter. But that doesn't mean the family lacks any heirs to grumble about the fact they could be cashing in on billions if they just sold.
"This decision by the Grahams gives people inside the [Sulzberger] family who've wanted to sell ammunition," Doctor said.
After seven consecutive years of revenue decline, Graham and publisher Katharine Weymouth began exploring the idea of a sale earlier this year. Preliminary discussions took place in the spring, but Graham and Bezos didn't hammer out details until last month and the deal was only finalized on Monday.
Weymouth told HuffPost that they decided to sell quietly to Bezos for $250 million, rather than potentially bring in a higher offer on the open market, because he was the ideal steward for the paper, bringing both innovation and shared values.
"We wanted to get a fair price for the value we believe we've created and for our shareholders," Weymouth said. "But the goal was not to get the highest bid. The goal was to get a fair price and a good owner for generations to come."
Investors have reacted favorably to the deal and there hasn't been the sort of media handwringing that followed the Chandlers' sale of the Los Angeles Times to The Tribune Co. or the Bancrofts' sale of Wall Street Journal-parent Dow Jones to Rupert Murdoch. There's a perception, at least, that Bezos will not change the editorial values of The Washington Post, but instead will be a force for needed change and innovation to the business. If the Sulzbergers' greatest fear is that a new owner would upset the paper's journalistic traditions, the Post deal could serve as a model.
Source: Huffington Post | Eleazar David Melendez