Who Owns The Washington Post? – The Washington Post, or, The Post, is a daily newspaper popular for its political reports and, today is one of the very few publications that operate foreign bureaus. Its foreign bureaus are located in locations that include but are not limited to Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Hong Kong, London, Mexico City, Moscow, New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and Toronto. This newspaper boasts of winning 69 Pulitzer Prizes, second only to The New York Times. Even though this paper is primarily widely circulated in the Washington metropolitan area, it now has an international audience. Having been founded in the year 1877, The Post has a rich history. Currently owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, The Post’s ownership has been passed through different hands for various reasons.
History After Founding – Who Owns The Washington Post?
Stilson Hutchins (1838–1912) founded this eminent newspaper in 1877, turning it into the first newspaper in the city that was published seven days a week three years after its founding. Just after four months into publication, in April 1878, The Post purchased a competing newspaper, The Washington Union, which had then been six months into publication. The combined newspaper had a circulation of 13,000 and went by the name The Washington Post and Union briefly for two weeks before The Post returned to its original name.
The first time the newspaper changed owners was in 1889 when it was sold to a former postmaster general, Frank Hatton, and a former Democratic congressman, Beriah Wilkins. After the demise of Hatton in 1894, Wilkins acquired the former’s share, which remained in his possession until he died in 1903. After a couple of years of successfully running the publication. Wilkins’ sons, John and Robert, sold it to the owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer, John Roll McLean, in 1905.
The Meyer-Graham Period
John McLean, an entrepreneur, was aware that his son would not be able to run his business adequately and willed the ownership of The Post to a trust. However, after McLean’s demise in 1916, his son, Edward McLean, broke his father’s trust, and the quality of publications and the profit from business declined significantly.
Financier Eugene Meyer had offered to buy The Post from Edward Mclean in 1929 for as much as $5 million but was declined by the latter. Four years later, Meyer bought the publication for $825,000 anonymously at a bankruptcy auction. Meyer made sure that his money and efforts bore fruit. He brought The Postback towards his former glory and maintained its prominent position even after Philip Graham, Meyer’s grandson, succeeded in 1946.
In 1954, The Post bought and merged with the Times-Herald, bringing to a close William Randolph Hearst’s intention of buying The Post at the bankruptcy auction just to shut it down to curb the competition. After this acquisition, the combined name for the publication was The Washington Post and Times-Herald until 1973, when Times-Herald slowly fell out of use.
After the death of Philip Graham, ownership passed onto Graham’s wife and Meyer’s daughter, Katharine Graham, in 1963. In 1971, she took the company public, offering company shares at $26 per share. By 1991, the end of Graham’s tenure as CEO, the worth of these shares had increased exponentially. The stock was $888 per share (excluding the intermediate 4:1 stock split). She served as publisher for ten years from 1969 to 1979 and was succeeded by her son, Donald E. Graham.
The Ownership of Jeff Bezos
In 2013, Jeff Bezos bought the company for a hefty $250 million. This sale included real estate property, websites, and other local publications. The Post is currently owned by Nash Holdings LLC, a company under Bezos’ control. Some assets like a group of TV stations were retained by the publication, which Graham Holdings Company now owns.
Ownership by Nash Holdings becomes significant as it is operated separately from Amazon, allowing Bezos to operate with a ‘hands-off approach, as he put it in his own words. Fred Ryan was appointed as publisher and as the chief executive officer soon after the sale. Bezos claims to communicate with Martin Baron, the executive editor, once in a couple of weeks, implying that the publication remains free of propaganda.
Why did Bezos Buy a Media Company?
According to Bezos, initially, he was not keen on the idea. Then, however, it was Donald E. Graham who saw a potential buyer in Bezos and suggested he invest. Even though Bezos countered with his lack of knowledge of newspapers, Graham stated that it was not the knowledge of newspapers that would make it a great investment, but the knowledge of the internet.
The businessman in Bezos saw how it would be a raw deal as the publication was not profiting as it should. And it was not because of faulty service or an issue of operation. It simply was because their readership was shifting to a mode more accessible to them, and the newspaper was struggling to keep up with the maintenance of its readership.
Bezos cites that he went by his intuition and saw that The Post was an institution and not just a business. He also saw the opportunity to make this newspaper a global institution. Bezos turned the biggest weakness of The Washington Post into its biggest strength. The same internet, which was adversely impacting the sales, was now a means to increase readership as the internet assured free global distribution. The focus of The Post went from acquiring revenue per reader to acquiring more readers.
How has The Post changed under its New Owner?
Donald E. Graham credits the success of The Washington Post to Bezos’ ‘extreme long-term mindedness.’ Some credit is due to Graham and saw the potential of what The Post could be and pitched his vision to Bezos. The proof of Bezos’ vision can be seen in the growth of Amazon, which is now worth around $900 billion, almost 25 years after it was founded.
Bezos played to his strength and focussed on how the publication could reach more readers, turning it from a print-focused publication into a digitally accessible global platform. Graham was adamant that Bezos take over because Amazon is a business built on books, making Bezos inherently familiar with reading habits. The addition of technology helped The Washington Post reach where it needed to be.
The newsroom has grown to 900, with new hires and the establishment of a new content management system that is also licensed. In addition, with the involvement of social media platforms like Reddit and TikTok, engagement is at an all-time high. In 2017, Fred Ryan announced that The Post had over 1 million paid digital-only subscribers. The first step in the right direction, the number of subscribers has now notably increased.
With the change in ownership, a major controversy surfaced, which concerned the company’s unfair pay practices. 400 employees of The Post signed an open letter to Bezos in June 2018, demanding job security, healthcare, and fair wages. Their demands also included family leave and fair benefits after retirement. The pay practices of the growing business were brought to the fore with the employees’ video testimonials.
The claim was that despite a record increment in paid subscriptions, the average increment in wages was only $10 per week. This was less than half the rate of inflation then. The petition did not bear expected results for the employees after a whole year of negotiations between The Washington Post Guild and the upper management.
Reshaping The Business
Going forward, Bezos is clear with his vision. Given the prevalence of technology in our daily lives, printed media is slowly but surely being replaced by digital platforms. Given that The Post was circulated in the nation’s capital, the owner was presented with an opportunity to begin expansion at the nation’s heart and take it to an international level. The propagation of news in the region was changed into the propagation of news to all interested readers, whether they are located nationally or internationally.
The business has gained footing in the digital realm and is now aiming to continue to grow with more than 1.5 million subscribers to its name, The Post which began as a regional newspaper, is now seeing the world. However, the newspaper has seen and reported turbulent times, both historically and financially. Passing through multiple owners, The Washington Post saw success until bankruptcy and then success again. With its evident struggle to keep up with the changing times, the business tactics needed to change, and expansion to a different form of the medium was essential.
It was Graham’s foresight that recognized the shortcomings of his publication along with a possible solution to overcome this obstacle and come out triumphant. Jeff Bezos saw the potential of this newspaper, a national institution, and promptly sought to make it an internationally known publication, accessible to readers worldwide. Today, The Washington Post is catering to readers all around the globe, and it is all because the enemy, which was technology, was made into a friend.