With the sale, ownership of The Washington Post transfers from a family synonymous with Washington, D.C., to an Internet billionaire who makes his home thousands of miles away in Washington state.
The companies that currently do business with The Washington Post said they hope to continue doing so under new ownership, but added that their companies do not heavily depend on business from The Post to stay afloat.
Lang said she supports Graham’s decision to sell the newspaper, but also wonders whether having an out-of-state owner will cause the Post to have less of a “hometown feel.”
“If I needed something, I could just pick up the phone and call Don,” Lang said. “I knew where he breakfasted with his niece at the Four Seasons. So I would just happen to go by, because that was how you could get to him.”
Kilberg at NVTC sees the ownership transition as an opportunity for a storied newspaper that has struggled financially in recent years, saying Bezos is “an entrepreneur, he’s an innovator, he’s an inventor and he’s a technology disrupter.
“It is obviously a real loss to not have the Grahams at the ownership helm of The Washington Post but, at the same time, you’re turning to a new chapter in the life of the paper.”
Staying the course
Just as many local businesses have felt they had a reliable partner in the Graham family, so, too, does the region’s philanthropic community. When it comes to corporate giving, local charity leaders said that Donald Graham sets the tone for other executives.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that loves the city quite as much as he does,” said Lynne Brantley, former chief executive of the Capital Area Food Bank. It’s in, with, and through his bones.”
Graham was an early supporter of the food bank, and Brantley said his involvement was critical to the fledgling operation’s success.
“We were young and struggling in 1980, and his taking us on gave us credibility,” she said.
Graham also founded and serves as chairman of the District of Columbia College Access Program, a group that aims to get more Washington students to enroll in and finish college.
Argelia Rodriguez, the program’s chief executive, said she thinks Graham’s sensitivity to this was born during his days working as a beat cop in the District.
“All of that came from Don really walking the streets, seeing those kids hanging out with no prospect of a future,” Rodriguez said. “And he took it to heart.”
Graham continues to be a constant fixture at DC-CAP events. Rodriguez says you won’t find him schmoozing with the major funders; you’ll find him hanging out with the students.
“Don is DC-CAP,” Rodriguez said. “There’s not a decision, there’s not a thing that’s done that Don is not involved in.”
Graham said he plans to continue his involvement in these causes.
“My personal philanthropic activities and those of the corporation won’t change,” Graham said in a statement. “I am one of several trustees of the Philip L. Graham Fund and I am sure I can say their activities won’t change at all either.”
The Graham family’s influence on local philanthropy began long before Donald Graham took the helm of the company. His mother, Katharine Graham, established the Philip L. Graham Fund, a foundation that today gives more than $4 million in grants to local charities each year.
Eugene Meyer, Katharine Graham’s father and the Post’s owner and publisher from 1933-1946, started the Meyer Foundation in 1944 with his wife, Agnes E. Meyer.
Julie Rogers, the foundation’s president and chief executive, said the Grahams played an integral role in shaping the region’s philanthropic landscape.
In the late 1990s, a group of executives from major national foundations was in town for a meeting. Katharine Graham invited them to what Rogers called “a magnificent and memorable party” on the porch of her home, where they mingled with Washington luminaries and members of the local giving community.
That night, Rogers said, was something of a turning point for philanthropy in the region.
“We went a long way in changing the attitudes of national foundations,” Rogers said, who previously hadn’t committed much funding to groups in this region with local missions.
Staff writer Marjorie Censer contributed to this report.