A new era for my hometown newspaper


Kelyn Soong/The Washington Post

At 4:15 Monday, the first of several emails hit the in-boxes of every single employee of The Washington Post. There was a big announcement to be made in the first floor auditorium. Coincidentally, a story titled “Could one of these be the future Washington Post Co. headquarters?” had gone live one minute earlier. A floor full of wily journalists were confident this important meeting was about the sale of the building.

A herd of Posties waded into the auditorium at 1150 15th Street, the paper’s iconic headquarters. Many couldn’t find a seat. The last time that many employees headed out of the newsroom at once was when the 2011 earthquake hit. So, I opted to listen in by phone at my desk.  I had an interview lined up at 4:30 with a D.C. Council member that I’d already delayed, and didn’t want to put off further. Getting back to my desk would have been a hassle with eight floors of people scampering back to their desks at the same time.

Then came the news. The Washington Post newspaper was being sold. Shock doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling when Don Graham, The Washington Post Company’s C.E.O., uttered the words. But it was true: the paper I grew up reading, the paper that fueled my love for the English language and sports, was being sold. And I was sitting in its building, waiting to interview someone at my desk. As a kid, when I read the funnies on the Metro headed to school, I couldn’t have imagined I’d be in this position.

It was like someone had pulled the table cloth trick without disturbing the proverbial fine china that was the newsroom. Moved, but almost more surprised to not be shattered on the ground.

At 4:45, my phone rang. It was D.C. council member Tommy Wells, (D-Ward 6). He was calling on other business, but there was no talk of that. He was just as stunned as the stream of people coming back to their desks from downstairs. We rescheduled.

Most people walked around, giving the type of exhales that every journalist does when you know you’ll be buckling down for a long night in the newsroom. Yet, this story was different. Personally, it’s exhilarating even if nerve-wracking. Most of us are in this business for that very reason — you never know what may come next.

I can’t imagine what this must have been like for the Graham family. “All the Grahams in this room have been proud to know since we were very little that we were part of the family that owned The Washington Post.  We have loved the paper, what it stood for, and those who produced it,” Don Graham wrote in a letter to staff. He got a standing ovation when the announcement was over. I’m told there were tears.

After the initial hubbub died down, publisher Katharine Weymouth sat down with me to talk about the entire experience. “[It's] sad and momentous for the Graham family and the people who have spent their careers with Don and my family. But also exciting. If you think of all the owners we could have in the world, Jeff seems like a pretty good one. He shares the values that the Graham family has and the values [by which] we run the paper,” she said. “We are confident that he’s buying for all the right reasons. … So, it’s a day of incredibly mixed emotions.”

Outside of the building, reporters milled about in an odd role reversal. They asked questions while journos ducked out with polite declines. A few people took photos of the logo on the front, while news of the sale scrolled across the ticker.

Back inside, some were happy. The tweets were too funny to ignore. Others were cautiously optimistic, looking at the price tag as a positive. At one point during the press conference, there was even a joke that we all wouldn’t be getting free Kindles tomorrow. Bummer.

Now that the news is out, Weymouth is relieved as much as anything. “It’s hard living with a secret. Now I feel like we can all move forward together,” she said.  About an hour before, while designers reshuffled Tuesday’s front page at the universal desk, a senior editor offered up one sarcastic point of solace for her.

“At least we beat the New York Times on it,” he said.

Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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Clinton Yates | August 5, 2013