If you watched the TV series “Lou Grant,” you might cling to an image of newspaper owners in the mold of Mrs. Pynchon, the aristocratic, high-minded widow who struggled to keep the Los Angeles Tribune afloat. The character, played by the late Nancy Marchand, was based in large part on Katharine Graham, the a real-life elegant heiress and publisher of the Washington Post.
Maybe that’s part of why it’s so startling to hear that Graham’s newspaper is being sold to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. He’s a member of a new breed of mass-media magnates who bring to mind the words of the brash young tycoon Orson Welles portrayed in Citizen Kane: “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.” Here’s the scoop on some of the new news barons.
- Jeff Bezos. The founder of the world’s biggest online retailer paid $250 million for the Washington Post, barely nicking his net worth, estimated by Forbes at $25.2 billion. Buying the most prestigious news outlet in the nation’s capital might be a surprising choice for someone based in Seattle. But perhaps not as unlikely as another reported Bezos venture: backing Blue Origin, a Texas-based space exploration company trying to develop a vertical takeoff-and-landing rocket.
- John Henry. The Post deal came on the heels of the New York Times’ unloading the Boston Globe to Boston Red Sox owner John Henry for $70 million in cash. (The Times bought the Globe for $1.1 billion in 1993.) Henry, who made his $1.5 billion fortune in the hedge fund business, bought the baseball team in 2002, and World Series championships followed in 2004 and 2007. Henry is a sporty guy; he also owns Great Britain’s Liverpool F.C. soccer team, and iRacing, the popular online multiplayer auto-racing game.
- Aaron Kushner. The 39-year-old Stanford grad initially made a fortune with the address-notification website Mymove.com in the 1990s and then got into the greeting card business in the early 2000s. He bought the Orange County Register, one of California’s biggest newspapers, in 2012 for an undisclosed price. Bucking conventional wisdom, he’s reportedly hired 100 new newsroom staffers and started printing on thicker paper, to produce more vivid graphics and photos. The paper’s circulation has risen more than 5 percent, according to this 2013 Associated Press profile.
- Warren Buffett. The venerable 82-year-old Berkshire Hathaway investment fund mogul (estimated net worth: $53.5 billion) has quietly become a media power in recent years. Instead of going after high-profile newspaper, Berkshire Hathaway concentrated on small and medium-sized papers, spending $344 million to purchase 28 of them in 2012 alone. Buffett insists to investors that there’s an enduring value in having a newspaper land on your doorstep each morning: “If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job.”
But if you’re still nostalgic for Mrs. Pynchon, here’s the premiere episode of Lou Grant from 1977.
Photo of Jeff Bezos: Steve Jurvetson via Wikipedia
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