Do the recent sales of some of the most well-known news pubs mark a new, upbeat chapter for the declining old world media, or is it just another nail in their collective coffin?
The crazy exchanges began at the end of last week with the announcement that The New York Times
had called it quits with the money-draining Boston Globe
and was selling the paper for $70 million
, much less than the $1.1 billion it paid for it in 1993. The buyer is Boston Red Sox owner John Henry.
Then, over the weekend an odd agreement was announced Saturday
by International Business Times Media to acquire Newsweek
, which has been on life support since it ceased print publication
in December 2012.
IBT, which has almost a dozen online news sites, said that it’s not ruling out the possibility that it might bring back the Newsweek
magazine's printed version.
Then the biggest doozy of them all: The Washington Post
—whose role in U.S. history was solidified with its reporting of the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate break-in and cover-up—was sold by the venerable Graham family for $250 million to Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos
The consensus among media analysts is that the deals amounted to fire sales, as stockholders were tired of their investments in media companies getting consistently dragged down by traditional products such as newspapers. Their values have sunk to historic lows, and owners are realizing that as each day goes by, the values of the papers will only decline.
Four years ago, as a journalist, I saw firsthand how a company can shed a money-losing flagship newspaper to appease stockholders with the shuttering of the Rocky Mountain News
These latest sales probably signal the start of a bigger trend, with other media companies looking to get rid of their papers. Next on the list seem to be the Los Angeles Times
, Chicago Tribune
, and Baltimore Sun
The media world reacted largely with shock to the Post
sale, though some offered enduring hope:
“So let us hope that this is what the sale signifies: the beginning of a phase in which this Gilded Age’s major beneficiaries re-invest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence,” James Fallows wrote in The Atlantic
Some commented on the Post’s stewardship:
“[I]t is hard to understate the implications of the current owners crying uncle,” Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris wrot
e. “Over the decades, no newspaper owners have been more conscientious than the Graham family in balancing the imperatives of first-class journalism with a first-class business."
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And some marked it as the end of an era:
“The real story is about the journalism, not just today, but in the weeks, years ahead,” wrote Karen Dunlap, president of the journalism think tank Poynter Institute. “We share in the shock and sadness at the sale of a great, family-owned news organization. We celebrate Jeff Bezos’ willingness to invest in an outstanding news company and to keep the leadership team in place. The real measure of the sale will be seen in the quality of journalism under a new owner.”
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.