A change of captains on the good ship Washington Post

August 6, 2013
Kelyn Soong/The Washington Post (Kelyn Soong/The Washington Post)

Almost 20 years ago, when I was editor of The Post’s Weekend section, I asked the paper’s architecture critic, Ben Forgey, to do a story about the main building styles of Washington, from Greek Revival to Beaux-Arts.

Shortly before we went to press, the art director and I were looking at a proof of the layout. There was a picture of a house in Cleveland Park, representative of the Queen Anne style, snapped at random by one of our photographers.

A newsroom colleague happened past and glanced at the proof. “You know Don Graham lives in Cleveland Park, right?” he said. “And I think that might be his house.” The art director and I looked at each other and laughed nervously. What were the odds, we thought. Also: We probably need to find a new photo.

I thought of that episode Monday, when it was announced that the Graham family was selling The Washington Post to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. I have no idea what happens next. Good things, I hope. I do know that I’m sad the link between a storied newspaper and a local family is being severed.

Every Post employee has a story about Don Graham, about how he remembered their name or some detail about their lives. There is no more decent guy in Washington. I think he loves this town (not “this town”) as much as he loves this paper.

Does it make a difference that The Post’s soon-to-be new owner lives in the other Washington? Probably not. The Cohens sold Giant to the Dutch and that supermarket is still full of food.

What matters to me — and what should matter to the good people of Washington — is that The Post remain strong, that it covers the little people who live here with as much vigor as the big people who move here, that it sees in the daily dramas of its neighborhoods — from Cleveland Park to Langley Park to Parkfairfax — stories as worthy of coverage as the White House.

A newspaper is like a ship. Crews come and crews go. So do owners. But as we tighten the rigging and scrub the deck, we come to love the old vessel on which we serve, to take pride in her, to see her as almost a living thing, and to wish her fair winds and following seas. I’m looking forward to seeing where our next cruise takes us, but I’ll miss my old shipmate.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section.
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