Topping off a week of unusual media acquisitions with the most bizarre story yet, the Washington Post Co. (NYSE:WPO) is selling its flagship newspaper to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN).
The Post’s Paul Farhi wrote on Monday that Bezos, one of the world’s richest men, will pay $250 million cash for the newspaper and its affiliated publications. The deal ends four generations of ownership by the Graham family.
Amazon, the Seattle-based online retail giant, will have no role in the purchase, the Post reports. Instead Bezos himself will be the sole owner of the news organization, which will operate as a publicly traded company under a yet-to-be-decided name.
It’s a surprising turn of events for a paper with a pivotal role in breaking some of the most important news stories in American history, including the Watergate scandal in the 1970s and, more recently, the NSA surveillance scandal.
The Post reports that few people knew of the sale, and indeed the news came as a surprise even to employees. “I'm honestly shocked,” said one Post employee who was present at the staff meeting Monday afternoon. “But I think we have to continue forward with the innovation already under way. Even my boss’ boss had no idea.”
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In a letter to the paper’s staffers, Bezos attempted to clarify what, on its face, seems to be a low-key role:
“I won’t be leading The Washington Post day to day. I am happily living in ‘the other Washington,' where I have a day job that I love. Besides that, The Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.”
News of the sale comes, ironically, just three days after the New York Times style section published a profile of Katharine Weymouth, the Post’s fourth-generation publisher. In a letter to Post staffers on Monday, Weymouth referred to the sale as “the day that my family and I never expected to come.”
A Post employee also told IBTimes that Don Graham, chairman and CEO of the Post Co. and Weymouth’s uncle, was “tearing up” at the end of a speech on Monday afternoon. Graham also posted a letter about the sale on the Post’s website.
Twitter, naturally, was abuzz with the news, which comes just two days after IBT Media, parent of International Business Times, announced that it had acquired Newsweek, a former Washington Post Co. property. While the vast majority of tweeters expressed a combination of shock and snark, others with apparent knowledge of the situation offered more useful information.
Per memo, Bezos has asked Weymouth to stay on.
â€” Tom McGeveran (@tmcgev) August 5, 2013
Read Bezos’ full letter here.