Jeff Bezos Buying the Washington Post, Unexpectedly, for $250 Million in Cash

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Photo: Alex Wong/2009 Getty Images

Billionaire Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has decided he, too, would like to own an important newspaper, as moguls do. In a surprise announcement to staff this afternoon, the Washington Post said that Bezos, as an individual, will buy the paper for $250 million in cash. (Bezos is worth $25.2 billion, according to Forbes, and last week he sold about $185 million in Amazon shares, so he definitely has the money.)

"Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days," the Post reported on its own website. "The Post Co. will change to a new, still-undecided name and continue as a publicly traded company without The Post thereafter." Bezos will acquire the Post, its website, and a few tiny papers in the region, but will not take Post-owned titles Foreign Policy, Slate, and the Root, or the company's D.C. headquarters, which is for sale.

"Every member of my family started out with the same emotion — shock — in even thinking about" selling, said Post Co. CEO Donald Graham, whose family has owned the paper for 80 years. "But when the idea of a transaction with Jeff Bezos came up, it altered my feelings." He added, "I'm not saying this guarantees success but it gives us a much greater chance of success."

"The values of The Post do not need changing," said Bezos in a statement of his own, adding that he "won't be leading The Washington Post day-to-day." Legacy publisher Katharine Weymouth and new editor Martin Baron will stay on, and no layoffs are planned. However, Bezos warned, "There will of course be change at The Post over the coming years. That's essential and would have happened with or without new ownership ... There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment."

"This is a day that my family and I never expected to come," said Weymouth, who was featured just yesterday in the New York Times' Style section, which may not have seen this change coming, either. After an in-depth look at her social evolution, the Times turned to the family business, warning that "the climate for newspapers in general, and The Post in particular, remains tough. Mr. Baron called Ms. Weymouth 'a realist,' who 'still wants us to do really great journalism,' albeit 'within the reality of our economic circumstances.'" That reality is, all of a sudden, much different.