Donald E. Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co., yesterday appointed Boisfeuillet Jones Jr. associate publisher, putting Jones in charge of day-to-day operations at the company's flagship newspaper. Graham said he wanted to focus on corporate issues, including the company's expanding Internet operations.
Graham, 54, announced the move at a senior staff meeting, saying he will retain the title of publisher and will continue to oversee the newspaper's editorial policy. Jones, his longtime friend and colleague, has served as president and general manager of The Post since 1995.
Graham, in a joking reference to his family's control of the company, said he would remain publisher "because I want to" and because there's no one to tell him he can't.
Graham's grandfather, Eugene Meyer, purchased the newspaper in 1933. Jones, 53, is only the second person outside the Graham-Meyer family to direct the newspaper since then.
Jones's appointment follows the latest financial report by the Post company this week, which detailed both increasing investments and losses from Internet-related operations as the company tries to adapt its news, advertising and other corporate holdings to an increasingly wired world.
The company last year invested $85 million directly in Internet ventures, including online versions of The Washington Post and Newsweek magazine, which returned only about $17 million in revenue. The Post recorded a $7 million loss in the last three months of 1999 from its stake in a new Internet-based recruiting and career venture, contributing to a slight drop in company-wide profitability from the same period in 1998.
"The company is bigger and more complicated, and the Internet absorbs a lot of time," Graham said in an interview. "We are investing heavily in several new businesses--primarily, but not exclusively, on the Internet. They have great promise, but they're not established businesses.
"I have not had the time to run the paper in the detail that someone needs to. Bo [Jones] has been doing that. This makes it official."
Jones added: "The newspaper is still at the heart of this company and in Don's own heart."
Although the Washington Post newspaper is the company's largest generator of revenue, twice the size of any other division, the company's fastest-growing business by far is Kaplan Inc., a subsidiary providing education and career services. Post-Newsweek Stations, its broadcasting subsidiary, delivers the largest share of the company's profit.
Industry analyst Gary Arlen in Bethesda said Graham's decision appears to reflect a shift in strategy toward the Internet by major newspapers. "Originally, they came out in a purely defensive mode," said Arlen, who gave The Post and other major newspapers a "B-minus" grade on their Internet efforts. "They wanted to make sure electronic competition didn't kill their print business. They're really trying to create some new businesses now."
Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said that for several years Jones has increasingly handled business issues involving the newspaper, including plans for new zoned editions--one for Virginia and the other for Maryland and the District--scheduled to be published starting later this year.
Senior editors and many reporters at the paper worked with Jones directly when he was the newspaper's counsel, from 1980 to 1995. Downie predicted the newsroom would not see any noticeable change in direction under Jones.
"While there are differences in personalities between the two of them, they've acted in tandem for a very long time here," Downie said. "He's virtually a member of the family."
Jones was born in Atlanta. He and Graham both attended St. Albans School in the District after Jones's father was appointed an assistant secretary of health, education and welfare in the Kennedy administration. Both also attended Harvard College, and Jones, two years younger than Graham, followed him as president of the Harvard Crimson newspaper.
Jones received a doctorate in history from Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar and received a law degree from Harvard Law School.
Jones was practicing law in Boston when Graham asked him to become vice president and counsel at The Post in 1980. That assignment plunged Jones almost immediately into the heated, drawn-out libel lawsuit against the newspaper by William Tavoulareas, then president of Mobil Corp., who had sued over 1979 articles reporting that he had "set up" his son in an oil-tanker operation that did business with Mobil.
Tavoulareas won an initial $2.05 million jury verdict, but The Post ultimately prevailed on appeal.
Post Vice President Benjamin C. Bradlee, then executive editor, said Jones's calmness as quarterback of the newspaper's defense won his admiration and loyalty. "His attitude was 'So we got sued. What do we do to put on the best defense?' He's a very focused person when he gets his hands on a problem," Bradlee said.
John R. Tydings, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said that while he hoped Jones's appointment would not mean a lessening of Graham's interest in the region, he was confident of support from Jones, who has been treasurer of the trade board. "He brings a very inquisitive mind. He's a very exacting person. He's always asking, 'Are we sure?' "
Graham announced the appointment yesterday at a staff meeting for senior executives and editors. He did it with a playful air, telling the group he had considered going outside for someone with proven leadership ability. He then flashed a photo of basketball star Michael Jordan on a screen. Unfortunately, Graham said, Jordan already had been taken by the Washington Wizards basketball franchise.
CAPTION: Washington Post Publisher Donald E. Graham, left, with Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., newly appointed associate publisher.