News of the Washington Post's sale to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million sent ripples across US media on Monday, with many already wondering whether the billionaire's personal politics may affect the paper's coverage in the future.
The 49-year-old Bezos, currently ranked as the 11th richest individual in the US by Forbes and the 19th richest in the world just above Google's Larry Page, has made top headlines since the surprising news that the Washington Post Company had been secretly conducting a sale of its newspaper properties to the self-made entrepreneur.
According to the Post's own reporting on the matter, the Graham family's eight-decade ownership will come to an end as the company sells off its leading newspaper publication, along with several smaller regional and niche papers, to the retail innovator.
The Grahams contracted the investment firm Allen & Co. to discreetly approach potential buyers before The Post Company's board settled on Bezos, who has never operated a newspaper, and will be purchasing it directly, rather than as an Amazon acquisition.
As for whether the sale of the Post to a single individual may impact its editorial outlook over the long term, the initial announcement to staff indicates no immediate staff changes. Bezos assured Post staff that "the values of the Post do not need changing," though he promised "experimentation" in the future.
"No layoffs are contemplated as a result of the transaction among the paper's 2,000 employees," the Post reported on Monday, and publisher Katharine Weymouth as well as editor Marty Baron will be staying on.
Similar purchases in the past most notably that of the Wall Street Journal's acquisition by Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp in 2007, have carried disclaimers that the paper's editorial operations would be run independently of the buyer's own politics.
Though Bezos is a self-described libertarian and largely considered opaque on political matters, his contributions indicate he leans towards supporting Democrats and was an instrumental donor to a successful referendum on gay marriage in Washington state last year, giving $2.5 million in support of Referendum 74.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (AFP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand)
In the past Bezos has contributed to the campaigns of Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, the biggest recipients, along with Senator Pat Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat. Bezos has at times also contributed to Republican candidates, notably Spencer Abraham of Michigan and former Washington Senator Slade Gorton.
Although contributions by Amazon are not necessarily indicative of personal leanings by Bezos, the company has contributed via its Political Action Committee in a bipartisan manner over the last decade or so. The company has notably been a major proponent for an internet sales tax in the US, an idea which was also backed by the Washington Post's editorial board.
Amazon is currently required to collect sales taxes only in states where it maintains a physical presence, such as a warehouse, though under current expansion plans throughout the country it would likely be unable to avoid state sales taxes, reports the Post.
Though rival publications including the smaller Washington Times newspaper would consider the Post a left leaning newspaper it has often been considered centrist, and its editorial positions have been considered conservative on issues such as the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, an initial opposition to setting a deadline from that country, as well as support for free trade agreements. The paper endorsed Barack Obama for president both in 2008 and in 2012.
The Washington Post is widely considered to be a leading American paper, along with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, though it has nonetheless suffered a significant decline in circulation numbers and profitability.
The newspaper division under The Washington Post Co. has reported a 44 per cent decline in revenue over the last six years. The division reported an operating loss of $34.5 million in the first quarter of 2013 alone.
In the past three years average daily paid circulation for The Washington Post declined 14 per cent to 480,166, while Sunday circulation has dropped 11 per cent to 697,026. The paper ceased publication of a weekly edition of the Washington Post in 2009.
This summer The Washington Post began a new paywall system, requiring online readers who access more than 20 articles per month to pay a fee.