Post sale hailed by business leaders


Exterior view of The Washington Post building on 15th Street in Washington, D.C. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Word that The Washington Post is being sold to the entrepreneur who founded Amazon.com rocked the region served by the newspaper Monday, causing some concern but winning praise from those who know the owner-to-be, Jeffrey P. Bezos.

“This is like an earthquake,” said Rick Rockwell, a communications professor at American University.

His university colleague Jill Olmsted said she was “in shock, astonished and concerned.”

“I think any thinking person is going to have to be concerned because there is going to be new people in place even though they are keeping the same leadership for right now,” Olmsted said. “It is only logical to expect that there is going to be change.”

Through the prism of those who have prospered in the Internet-based world that has emerged as the primary platform for news, the Bezos purchase seemed a perfect marriage.

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“This is a very smart transaction,” said Ted Leonsis, the former AOL executive who owns the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals. “Jeff Bezos is one of the best businessmen in the world and one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet. He will be a fantastic steward of this media property.”

Leonsis credited the Graham family, which has owned The Post since 1933, for finding a buyer who will convert the newspaper from a publicly traded company into private hands.

“It allows the paper to be invested in and transformed outside of the harsh light of Wall Street demands,” he said. “This is stunning news but, on reflection, quite good news for people in D.C.”

Bezos was among the investors who put $10 million a year ago into Georgetown-based online education company EverFi, which provides K-12 schools and colleges with digital tutorials that teach students life skills such as financial literacy often missing from classroom curricula.

“Their approach with us has been they’re very hands-off on the operations of the business,” chief executive Tom Davidson said.

Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and the RLJ Companies, described Bezos as a “very smart businessman. “

“I am convinced that Jeff will bring the same journalistic integrity to The Washington Post that has been represented by Katharine Graham and her son Donald,” Johnson said. “Those of us who expect quality journalism and integrity in reporting will continue to receive that with the additional innovative ideas Jeff will bring.”

Leonard E. Moodispaw, chief executive of Hanover-based cybersecurity company KEYW, said he reads The Post and the New York Times every morning.

“I count on The Washington Post for quality reporting,” he said. “I’m afraid that it will lose that objectivity and that quality.

“Bezos made a lot of money out of Amazon,” Moodispaw said. “But if he, like other owners, is going to be driven by the bottom line, then you start losing good people, good reporters, and you start cutting corners.

“That’s just losing the local flavor, the local quality that we have with The Post,” he added. “I’m obviously stunned.”

Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, called the sale “really good news.” He said that everything he knows about Bezos indicates that he’s committed to investing for the long term and allowing innovation to “go at a reasonable pace and find itself.”

Bill Marriott, executive chairman of Marriott International in Bethesda, expressed hope that the new ownership will “help The Post remain a pillar of American journalism.” He also noted that “my parents built their business as Katherine Graham was building The Post into a national and global media powerhouse. ”

Politicians, including some who have come under scrutiny or editorial criticism from The Post, said they hope Bezos will maintain the paper’s traditional role.

“I start my day every day with a cup of coffee and The Washington Post,” said Sharon S. Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “And I hope we don’t lose too much of that tradition.”

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who was propelled by a 1978 Post endorsement to the first of four terms as District mayor, said he hopes Bezos will become part of region’s fabric.

“You don’t have to live here, but you have to have policies that are supportive of the community,” he said. “If he does not reflect the values of the community, we won’t support” the newspaper.

Steve Delfin, chief executive of Chantilly-based America’s Charities, said he has some concerns about how Bezos’s stewardship might influence The Post’s approach to philanthropy.

“Jeff Bezos’s footprint in philanthropy is smaller than one might think given the size and scope of his personal wealth,” Delfin said.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said in a statement that he is “honored to have worked with Don Graham and the Graham family” and that he welcomes Bezos as a “pioneer and a visionary.”

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said he hopes Bezos will provide The Post with the resources it needs to grow.

“I was glad to see that Mr. Bezos has no plans to reduce the size of the Post staff. The newsroom has seen its share of cuts in recent years,” he said.

Said Rep. John K. Delaney, (D-Md.), a local entrepreneur and founder of CapitalSource: “The Graham family has guided The Post to be one of the most iconic, trusted and intelligent brands in journalism, and I suspect those traditions will continue under the stewardship of a great American entrepreneur like Jeff Bezos.”

As TV crews gathered outside The Post’s headquarters on 15th street NW, Craig Brownstein, 53, paused to take photos.

“He knows what he’s buying — a marquee paper,” Brownstein said of Bezos.

Robert Williams of Logan Circle said he has subscribed to The Post for two decades. But he thinks Bezos can help the paper, which he said has been “blindsided” by social media and new technologies.

“This sale will hopefully reinvigorate The Post and make it relevant in this digital age,” said Williams, 44, a Web marketing manager.

Lori Aratani, Abha S. Bhattarai, Mark J. Berman, DeNeen Brown, Marjorie J. Censer , Mike DeBonis, Sarah C. Halzack, Hamil R. Harris, Thomas J. Heath, Jenna R. Johnson, Luz E. Lazo, Carol Morello, Steven M. Overly, Michael Rosenwald, Miranda Spivack and Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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