Washington Post office
Credit: dionhinchcliffe on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
The Washington Post is to enter a new stage of its business, with the sale to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos announced late yesterday (Monday).

According to the Post's own coverage of the news, Bezos "will pay $250 million in cash for The Post and affiliated publications to The Washington Post Company".

Media reports announced the news as a "shock", both to themselves and to the Post's own staff. The Guardian's Ed Pilkington, for example, reported that the announcement "shocked even seasoned observers of the turmoil in the US newspaper industry".

"The deal was conducted in such secrecy that even the Post's own stable of investigative reporters were taken by surprise when the paper published on its website a story about the transfer," he reported.

In a note to staff, the new owner promised that 'the values of The Post do not need changing", but he highlighted that the impact of the internet and new technologies will mean change in other ways.

"The internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs," he said.

"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.

"Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention."

In the Post's own story online, the Post's reporter Paul Fahri also highlighted the impact of the web and "the epochal change from print to digital technology", which he explained has "created a massive wave of competition for traditional news companies, scattering readers and advertisers across a radically altered news and information landscape and triggering mergers, bankruptcies and consolidation among the owners of print and broadcasting properties".

In a Post.tv video interview, chief executive Donald Graham said "we knew we could keep the Post alive, we knew it could survive," but that they have always wanted more than that for the news outlet.

He explained that looking ahead at the figures, 2013 "would be the seventh straight year of significant declining revenues". He said that while the news outlet has "innovated a lot", those innovations have not delivered revenues which have been able to "offset the continued pounding decline".

This prompted the decision to "see if we could find a buyer" and "open the possibility of a better future for the Post", he said.

In a posting on the Washington Post's Wonkblog, economic policy correspondent Jim Tankersley also puts a spotlight on the importance of the news outlet's business model, adding that he hopes Bezos can "figure out a way to turn a profit on the type of journalism that everyone here believes in".

"I don’t know a single reporter who got into journalism for the money. I do know a lot of really talented young reporters who worry there won’t be money in journalism for much longer.

"I’d like to prove them wrong. I’d like to be a part of the place that figures out the business model without sacrificing the things that drew me into the business in the first place."

CNBC also asks "can Bezos turn a profit?", in an interview with founder of PAA Research Brad Safalow.

In the New Yorker David Remnick, asks why Bezos has chosen to purchase "a traditional media outlet rather than start another internet enterprise of his own?".

But, he added, "the Graham family tried hard to assure everyone that this was for the best, that Donald Graham has known Bezos for fifteen years and trusts him to do the right thing: invest for the long term in real journalism."

The sale comes just two months after the Post launched its digital subscriptions model, operating via a metered paywall.

And the impact of the web and the changing nature of digital communication in recent years, was also signalled in the way many people would have heard the news, as highlighted by national correspondent for the Atlantic, James Fallows.

"For now I mean only to say: this is a moment that genuinely surprised me. I think I'll remember where I was when I first heard the news -- via Twitter! -- and I am sure it will be one of those episode-that-encapsulates-an-era occurrences.

"Newsweek's demise, a long time coming, was a minor temblor by comparison; this is a genuine earthquake."

And Twitter was also where many turned to when sharing their reaction to the news, as a round-up by Hayley Tsukayama on the Post's technology blog demonstrates.

Sharing some insight into its new owner, the Post has published a timeline of his career and business-ventures, starting with the founding of Amazon.com in 1994. There is also a historical background to the Washington Post charting its life since 1877. The Washington Business Journal also offers some finer details on the deal.

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