The Erik Wemple Blog this morning had a conversation with Washington Post Co. Chairman and CEO Donald Graham about yesterday’s announcement that the newspaper and little-sister publications would be sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million. (Interview is edited: Questions from the Erik Wemple Blog are paraphrased; answers from Graham are verbatim).
TEWB: Does this sale stem from a sense of exasperation with the newspaper economy?
Graham: It’s not exasperation. … It’s reality: No newspaper has figured out how to reach its large audience in way that makes money, but I believe that somebody will figure that out and that news in the future will probably be a reasonably profitable business.
TEWB: The fact that no one else has been able to figure it out — does that soften the heartbreak of having to sell this precious asset?
Graham: No, it doesn’t make it easier. I said at the end of the talk yesterday that the only person I am disappointed in is myself. I did want to find a way to make a Washington Post that was healthy and prosperous. … I didn’t do it and I disappointed myself.
I’m not responsible for any other newspaper. I’ve been responsible for one. … The Post is not only a business problem it is is among other things a business problem. Journalism plays a role here, serving the community plays a role here. As Katharine Graham used to say, excellence and profitability go hand in hand.
TEWB: You’ve sustained some criticism over the years for not having gotten a “bigger chunk” of Facebook and other missed opportunities. Any merit to such criticism?
Graham: When you get to my age, you look at the boundless opportunities that others have acted on and we didn’t. That said, we have done some awful good things. Between cash and stock, we have $900 million, almost a billion dollars. But even if we had $2 billion or $9 billion or $10 billion, we still wouldn’t have a solution to the common business problem that’s making metropolitan newspapers [suffer].
TEWB: The deal leaves in place the Washington Post’s business and editorial management. Would you have concluded a deal with someone who wanted to wipe it out?
Graham: I said yesterday we did not auction it and we approached … more than one potential buyer. We didn’t approach anyone we didn’t think would be good for the paper. We wanted to find a buyer who would bring something — financial strength, technology strength or other strength. Honestly … I am sure there are people in the world who are as good as Jeff at figuring out the future of a problem and a technology but I don’t think there’s anybody better.
TEWB: What’s next for you?
Graham: I’ll be the CEO of the soon-to-be-renamed Washington Post Co.
TEWB: Will you write a memoir?
Graham: No interest.
TEWB: But you have all these travels and experiences. Why don’t you have any interest?
Graham: I don’t know but I don’t.