The Washington Post, the legendary newspaper that broke the Watergate scandal, is being sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as it seeks to survive the onslaught of the Internet.
Donald Graham, grandson of Eugene Meyer, who bought the Post during the Great Depression in 1933, stunned the US media industry today by announcing the sale of the newspaper to Bezos for US$250 million ($NZ320m).
Graham, chief executive of the Washington Post Company, had given no hint that the newspaper of record for the nation's capital was up for sale, despite sinking earnings and plunging subscriptions.
But he made clear that it was the formidable challenge of the Internet to traditional publishing that brought about the deal.
"I, along with (Post publisher) Katharine Weymouth and our board of directors, decided to sell only after years of familiar newspaper-industry challenges made us wonder if there might be another owner who would be better for the Post,'' Graham said in a statement.
"Jeff Bezos' proven technology and business genius, his long-term approach and his personal decency make him a uniquely good new owner for the Post.''
Multi-billionaire Bezos, who created Amazon, which has soared in a few years to a dominant position in online retailing, said he was buying the Post in his personal capacity and hoped to shepherd it through the evolution away from traditional newsprint.
"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 in a statement to Post employees.
"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.''
The deal involves only the newspaper assets of the Washington Post Co., including its free commuter daily The Express, the Spanish language newspaper El Tiempo Latino, and Robinson Terminal, a warehouse asset.
The Washington Post Co. also owns the large educational testing service Kaplan, Foreign Policy magazine, and other units.
Bezos said he will retain Weymouth, Donald Graham's niece and granddaughter of legendary post publisher Katherine Graham, as the newspaper's CEO and publisher.
"This is a day that my family and I never expected to come,'' Weymouth said in a statement to readers.
"The Washington Post Company is selling the newspaper it has owned and nurtured for eight decades.''
The decision to sell was made "with a heavy heart,'' she said, "but with an absolute conviction that Mr. Bezos' ownership represents a unique and extraordinary opportunity for The Washington Post as well as for readers.
She called Bezos "a proven entrepreneur'' who "takes the long-term view in his investments.''
"While he expects The Post to remain profitable, his focus is on the essential role that our journalism has on dialogue and the flow of information in our society.''
The sale underscored the desperation of the US newspaper industry for new cash support to survive the rapid transition of the news business to the Internet, where much of the news remains free.
The stunning announcement came just days after the New York Times sold the Boston Globe newspaper for just $70 million to the owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, 20 years after paying $1.1 billion for the paper.
Like the Post, the Globe had been bleeding subscribers to its physical newspaper and has been challenged to persuade consumers to pay to read it online.