As most of you know, the Graham family announced last week The Post’s sale to Jeff Bezos. Thousands of words have already been written on it by employees, former employees, media and business analysts and critics, so I will add just a few thoughts.
Covering the right as I do, I found it noteworthy how animated right-leaning outlets and pundits were over the news. It is not as if they ever regarded the Grahams as journalistic gods. Quite the contrary. You might think the sale of one of the bastions of mainstream media to a new media business guru would have elicited some hopeful reactions or even approval. It’s not hard to discern the implicit compliment those critics pay in voicing their mixture of glee and anger. They may talk about the decline of the MSM, but it and The Post specifically still matter. A lot. Suffice it to say, if one of the micro-blogs or dead-tree magazines of the right had announced a sale, it would not have engendered such an outpouring of commentary and emotion.
And that gets to my second observation. Whatever their limitations and faults (I am not shy about voicing them) large print media outlets do what other, small outfits can’t and won’t. I write frequently on their defects, aiming to illuminate and maybe even curtail their biases and outright errors. Still. They break important news over and over again and cover topics in depth. The Post, The Wall Street Journal and others have the conglomeration of foreign correspondents, investigative journalists, and local beat reporters along with the array of arts, culture, food and travel coverage that may otherwise be found only in drips or drabs scattered over the journalistic landscape. Big newspapers don’t just do inside the Beltway politics (like Politico’s brand of company town sensationalism) or just foreign policy or just movie reviews or just anything else; they do it all over the long haul, entreating us sometimes to read what we otherwise would not go looking for or even know was as out there. In that regard the Big Media are immensely valuable in a world of self-selected news and specialized interests.
Finally, as someone who has worked for a number of employers who were sold or merged, I recognize it can be a traumatic experience when your long-time employer passes you on to new owners. We are creatures of habit and find comfort in continuity. The sense of stability by virtue of decades of family ownership was, however, an illusion. Every year that The Post lost money or cut payroll was another sign the status quo was not holding. It sometimes takes a startling event to remind us that change is the only constant in the 21st century economy and culture. If moving to the Bezos era is nerve-racking, then staying with Post as it bled cash should have been terrifying.
The irony is that with the exception of the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and USA Today very few outlets have figured out an economic model that makes sense. That should concern readers, watchers and journalists, liberals and conservatives alike.
I am hoping Jeff Bezos is as smart about journalism as he is about retail. We all should be — even those commentators who just can’t help writing about the sale of The Post.