WASHINGTON—The Washington Post has a storied history as the house newspaper of the US political elite, and its journalists reported some of the 20th century’s biggest scoops, including the Watergate scandal.
More recently, the paper was one of two international news organizations approached by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden when he wanted to leak details of a vast US surveillance programs.
But, like many papers, the Post has struggled to adapt to the evolving media landscape as more readers find their news online and has faced sharply declining revenues.
Nevertheless, many were astounded by Monday’s announcement that the newspaper arms of the company, owned and run by the Meyer-Graham family since 1933, are to be sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
“This is a day that my family and I never expected to come,” publisher and Post CEO Katharine Weymouth wrote in a letter to readers.
Her uncle Don Graham, head of the overall Washington Post company, wrote in a separate letter that the clan had been “proud to know since we were very little that we were part of the family that owned The Washington Post.”
Produced Woodward and Bernstein
The paper is perhaps best known for the investigative series in the early 1970s written by then-unknowns Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about a break-in at the Democratic National Convention headquarters.
The building was the Watergate Hotel, which bequeathed its name to the resulting scandal which forced the resignation of president Richard Nixon, among other top figures.
Woodward and Bernstein both won Pulitzers for their reporting, based largely on tips from anonymous sources, which showed that officials at the highest levels in the FBI, the Justice Department, the CIA and the White House were involved in the break-in and attempts to cover it up.
This journalistic coup came under the watch of legendary publisher Katharine Graham, who led the company for three decades starting in 1963.
Graham, daughter of Eugene Meyer, who bought the Washington Post in 1933 at a bankruptcy auction, took over after her husband committed suicide—at a time when women rarely held top business posts.
She garnered massive respect for her stewardship of the newspaper. Among other successes, she took the company public in 1971 and, by the time she stepped down, the stock had increased by more than 30 times its original price.
Investigative reporting leaves mark
The paper’s investigative reporting has continued to leave a mark, including a recent investigation of the Walter Reed military hospital that prompted a review of the treatment of wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The paper has won 47 Pulitzer prizes, including six in 2008 alone.
But its reputation took a blow in 2009, when it became known that Weymouth and executive editor Marcus Brauchli were planning to sell off-the-record access to their reporters as well as officials, analysts, and executives, at high-priced “salons” at Weymouth’s house.
The idea to raise money for the paper prompted accusations of hypocrisy and the company quickly apologized and shuttered the plan.
The incident did nevertheless underline the Post’s ongoing financial difficulties—the newspaper posted an operating loss of $53.7 million last year—which in turn set the stage for Bezos’ surprise takeover.—Naomi Seck