If you are a journalist, the idea of the Post being sold is stunning. The New York Times just ran a piece on Sunday about the “next edition,” talking about how Katharine Weymouth would follow in Kay Graham’s footsteps, so the expectation was that the family would keep control and do what it’s always done–produce the best all-around newspaper in the nation.
But I suppose the business pressures were just too high.
Still, $250 million is just depressing in terms of what it says about the value of newspapers.
$250 million is what a baseball team pays for a couple of starting pitchers. Maybe an outfielder.
That’s for perspective.
To keep it to just newspapers, in 1993, the New York Times bought the Boston Globe of $1.1 billion.
Last week, the Times sold the Boston Globe for $70 million. Slate reports that with the pensions involved the actual price is around -$40 million. That’s minus $40 million!
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos may be the best possible buyer for the Post. As an internet baron, he’s well positioned for any upside in newspapers’ digital future. How can he not succeed fabulously?
Not only has he purchased a massive content machine for all his Kindles, as the Post’s owner, Bezos’ starts at the top, poised to go higher. In an instant, he becomes the industry leader in a new age of journalism.
UPDATE:8/6/13 8:31 a.m.PDT
But is it a “golden age”?
As I thought about Post being bought, I first was shocked by the amount. $250 million? As I said, this is what a star athlete makes. The Giant’s Barry Zito and a player to be named later come to mind. That’s not exactly Woodward and Bernstein.
I tweeted something about old Posties like Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, who now do their thing on TV, and what the Post could have fetched when they were there. And then it dawned on me that indeed, newspapers are becoming like sports teams, the play things of billionaires.
So, of course, the Red Sox John Henry buys the Boston Globe. And Amazon’s Bezos, of course, buys the Post. And for just $250 million? And they threw in some local shoppers? That’s not full retail, is it?
So now the question is if the Post, and the public, got the right billionaire.
From reading Bezos’ memo to the staff (posted by Poynter), it’s hard to tell. I thought it was straight forward.
But I didn’t become more skeptical until I saw this from Robert McChesney, the co-author of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America and author of Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy, both published this year. He is professor of communications at the University of Illinois.
Said McChesney: “As the commercial model of journalism is in free fall collapse, those remaining news media franchises have become playthings for billionaires, generally of value for political purposes, as old-fashioned monopoly newspapers still carry considerable influence. The United States went through this type of journalism at the turn of the last century and it produced a massive political crisis that led eventually to the creation of professional journalism, to protect the news from the dictates of the owners. Today professionalism has been sacrificed to commercialism, and the resources for actual reporting have plummeted.
“Perhaps nothing better illustrates the desperation facing American journalism and democracy better than the fact we are reduced to praying we get a benevolent billionaire to control our news, when history demonstrates repeatedly such figures are in spectacularly short supply, and the other times we relied on such a model crashed and burned. America meets an existential crisis with an absurd response. No wonder this is a golden age for satire. We have to do better.”
I wish I knew more billionaires to judge Bezos, and what his stewardship of the Post might mean. But McChesney and the Institute of Public Accuracy raise some issues that don’t automatically make Bezos journalism’s savior.
Consider this. It could be much worse. Is Bezos better than a Koch brother, or two? And a billionaire to be named later?
In that way, Bezos doesn’t look all that bad at all. But let’s see what type of return policy comes when you buy a newspaper–and if it works both ways.