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Sale takes place at a challenging time for newspaper

Updated: 2013-08-07 07:47
By Chen Weihua ( China Daily)

The Washington Post, the legendary US newspaper that broke the Watergate scandal in 1972, became a news story itself on Monday when The Washington Post Co announced it had been sold to Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey Bezos.

The sale marks the end of the Graham family's control, after four generations, of one of the most powerful newspapers in the United States.

The mood of the staff was described as somber, and several veteran employees cried as Post chairman and chief executive Donald Graham and the newspaper's publisher Katherine Weymouth, a member of the Graham family, announced the news at a packed meeting of employees in the downtown Washington office building.

The $250 million sale to Bezos includes The Post, its website and several small sister papers, but does not include Foreign Policy magazine, the Slate magazine and The Washington Post Co's headquarters building, which was reported for sale in February.

Like most daily newspapers in the US, The Washington Post's daily circulation plummeted to 474,767 in March from its peak of 832,332 in 1993, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, which independently verifies print and digital circulation of newspapers and magazines.

The news came just two days after The New York Times announced its decision to sell The Boston Globe to John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, for $70 million.

According to data published by the Newspaper Association of America, total advertising revenues for US newspapers declined by 55 percent in 2012 from their peak in 2005. Newspaper losses in print revenue have not been made up by revenue in the digital world.

The past few years have seen many iconic newspapers and magazines disappear from the limelight. Just a month ago, the Oregonian, the oldest paper on the West Coast, announced a cut in its print circulation to four days a week.

A Pew Center research study released in March showed estimated newspaper newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put the industry down 30 percent since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978.

Rapidly declining reporting power has triggered concern about the quality of journalism, especially investigative reporting, as more seasoned reporters are laid off.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who is also a First Amendment lawyer, suggested a university endowment type of fund should be set up to support newspapers in order to keep democracy functioning.

Contact the writer at chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

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