Era of family management ends for Washington Post with new publisher

By Rob Lever, AFP

WASHINGTON–The Washington Post has a new publisher, owner Jeff Bezos said Tuesday in his latest move to reshape the prestigious daily for the digital age, ending a long era of family management. Bezos, the Internet entrepreneur and founder of Amazon, named Fred Ryan as publisher and chief executive, replacing Katharine Weymouth, the scion of the family that has run the paper for decades. Ryan is a former Reagan administration official and part of the founding leadership team of Politico, a successful digital news organization covering the Washington political scene.

A lawyer, he also headed Allbritton Communications, which operates local television stations. The transition will occur Oct. 1 and brings a highly symbolic end to a successful era of family management since Weymouth’s great-grandfather Eugene Meyer bought the Post in 1933. Weymouth will remain as an adviser through the end of the year. Ryan, 59, said in an interview with the newspaper he plans to keep executive editor Martin Baron, and would maintain the independence of the newsroom. The new publisher also pledged to pursue a “growth strategy” that includes investing to expand the newspaper’s reach and audience. “You don’t shrink your way to success,” Ryan said. “The Post is on the move. There’s no question about that.” Bezos unveiled plans to buy the newspaper with his personal assets in August 2013 for US$250 million. Since then he has said little about his vision, but the Post has been adding to its staff in recent months. The Post, like other large dailies, has been struggling with declining print circulation and advertising as readers turn to news on digital platforms. Weymouth, in a message to staff, said the newspaper will be “in excellent hands.” “I make this announcement with mixed emotions. I am enormously excited about this new era at the Post, but I will miss all of you tremendously,” she said. “We have made the transition to the digital era, and we’ve done it so successfully that in a time when many media companies seem positioned for retreat, we are positioned for opportunity.” ‘Knows the market’

Alan Mutter, a former Chicago newspaper editor who is now a consultant on digital media, said it was too soon to know of any new strategy under Ryan. But he noted that “Ryan is in the sweet spot of someone who knows the D.C. media market by virtue of running a successful local TV station there, and who also participated in the launch of Politico, one of the most successful digital news products of our time.” Media analyst Ken Doctor at the research firm Outsell said Bezos has already made a number of key investments, shoring up the reporting staff and making deals with other regional dailies for digital partnerships with the Post. “Bezos has made his investments in the newsroom, and he has the content engine well-tuned,” Doctor told AFP. Doctor said Ryan must turn his attention to building a stronger national audience for its digital news, and drawing advertising, and may use some of the techniques learned from Amazon in targeting readers. If this effort succeeds, Doctor said, “I think we will see the re-emergence of The Washington Post as a national news powerhouse.”