At that time, everyone -- including me -- assumed the Grahams would own the Post forever. From Eugene Meyer's purchase of the paper in 1933 at an auction held on the stairs of its E Street headquarters through the epic rise of the Post to a national brand -- thanks to Katharine Graham (Katharine Weymouth's grandmother), Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (among many, many others) -- and to the turbulent times for the business in the 2000s, the Grahams have just always been here.
For me, that sense of steadiness and stewardship took the form of Don Graham, the son of Katharine Graham and uncle of Katharine Weymouth. The stories about Don -- he takes the Metro to work! He knows the name of, literally, every employee! -- are true but don't even get at the true goodness of the man. Don was someone who asked to be put on my personal e-mail list so that he could get everything I wrote on his phone immediately after I posted it. (One of Don's truly great qualities: He was a political junkie through and through.) Don was someone who made sure that as the Fix grew, he came and personally introduced himself to the younger people on staff and made sure they knew they had an advocate in him. Don was someone who, I knew, was -- at some level -- looking out for me. Don was someone that given his position of power and his wealth didn't have to be a good guy. But he was anyway.
The sale of the Post, which was announced in early August 2013, stunned people in the newsroom who, like me, assumed that Don and Katharine -- and then their children -- would be involved in the leadership of this place forever. (Most of us thought we were being called together because the Post's building on 15th street had been sold.) It's hard to describe how unsettling it was that the Grahams , who were as close to synonymous with the Post as any family is with any company, wouldn't be our bosses anymore.
The more I thought about it though, the more I realized why, in my mind, Don and Katharine, whose idea it was, decided to sell the company to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. As a publicly traded company with a board of directors and in a very tough environment for all media companies, the Graham family had to decide between a number of very limited -- and bad -- options for the future of the business. Spending heavily to further expand the Post's reach was out of the question. Asking for employees to do more with less had, after years of that same plea, come close to reaching its limit of efficacy. Laying off large swaths of the staff was simply not something the Graham family would do.
Selling to someone like Bezos, who is worth many billion dollars, offered an alternate ending to the story. Bezos could buy the company, take it private and spend his considerable fortune however he saw fit. It was a chance to preserve the sort of news-organization-as-public-good idea that, to my mind, has epitomized the Meyer/Graham/Weymouth era of the Post. And, Bezos -- whether or not you agree or disagree with all of his decisions -- has shown a willingness to re-invigorate the staff (more than 100 new hires since the sale went final last October) in a way that the Grahams simply couldn't by the end of their time running the show.
With Katharine leaving today as publisher, a Graham -- or Graham descendant -- won't be at the top the masthead for the first time in a very long time.
It's the end of an era -- both for the Post and for journalism. And it's one I am forever thankful to the Grahams for -- not only for what they did when they owned the company but in their decision to sell it in hopes of preserving what has always made it great.