Brief history of news business profits

The Post, the sale and the news business – The Washington Post

People ask me about what will become of journalism. (It will endure or the democracy crumbles, I reply.) In reflecting on the sale of The Washington Post, long-time newsman Walter Pincus gives a condensed history of news profits. (See the link above.)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has bought the paper, much like the wealthy Eugene Meyer bought it in 1933. Meyer didn’t see a profit for 20 years. Pincus explains:

Like most owners of local U.S. newspapers, Meyer was already successful and never saw newspaper ownership as a money-maker. Instead, as [Philip] Graham put it, the family thought of the newspaper as a public utility and if it ever made as much as 7 percent on its gross income, it would be deemed a success.

Then the acquisition of television and radio stations and the conglomeration of media companies into chains sent profits to the 25 percent range and family companies went public and were beholden to stockholders rather than only rich families.

Now the publicly held Post has sold once again to a rich man, and maybe he’ll see the news organization as a public good. Journalism’s duty is to tell the truth and serve the public. We often fail. But as we go, so goes the democracy.

Pincus’ column is worth reading for the history in the first take, but the second half bears a debatable supermarket metaphor and is weak on the past decade. Pincus has been at the Post more than 50 years. He’s seen plenty.

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