Alex Jones on the Sales of The Boston Globe and The Washington Post

August 6, 2013
By Jenny Li Fowler, HKS Communications

The recent sales of two prestigious newspapers has many wondering about the direction of the journals. Boston Red Sox owner John Henry bought the Boston Globe from the New York Times Company for $70 million. CEO of Amazon.com Jeff Bezos just agreed to buy the Washington Post Company for $250 million.

Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy and Laurence M. Lombard Lecturer in the Press and Public Policy, gives us his perspective on the sales of these important institutions and what it means for print journalism.

Q: Do the two sales make you encouraged about the future of these two large newspapers?

Jones: I think it would be stretch to find these sales encouraging. They both are at prices that are vastly below what the newspapers would have been sold for in the 1990s. On the other hand, both found buyers with deep pockets and an apparent wish to preserve the news mission, which is the most important thing. So, I shall be cautiously optimistic about the future of both news organizations in a digital age. They will need to adapt, but I think they may well survive as important institutions.

Q: What are the risks associated with having a major daily paper owned by an individual with large outside business interests?

Jones: The history of newspapers is filled with wealthy individuals who wanted to be titans. Some had newspaper backgrounds and some did not. I think an argument could be made that a wealthy individual with ambitions for his new acquisition may well be a better choice than a bottom-line oriented corporation of an equity investor only interested in making a profit. So I would say the buyers of both the Globe and Post were the best alternatives in a sale.

Q: What are the biggest business decisions facing these two newspapers moving forward?

Jones: They must decide where to invest and where to cut expenses. I hope that they invest in news. I hope that The Washington Post brings back its ombudsman, a position that disappeared only this year. I hope that this is not an excuse to slash and burn. Both new owners have the resources to invest. But how and how much will be crucial. Both, I assume, will be heavily oriented toward digital. But there has to be the content, and that takes reporters and editors.

Q: Is print journalism in general facing an inexorable decline due to the digital competition?

Jones: I think print journalism is not going away quickly, but as we all know, we live in a digital age. That said, I know that there is plenty of paper still in everyone’s life. That won’t change immediately, but of course the shift to digital will happen. That doesn’t mean that journalism will decline necessarily. It doesn’t have to be in printed form to be journalism. But I think the delivery system of print will be around a good while longer…as long as advertisers are willing to offer some support by placing ads. That ad revenue has declined, but it’s still there.

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Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy

Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy and Laurence M. Lombard Lecturer in the Press and Public Policy

"...both found buyers with deep pockets and an apparent wish to preserve the news mission, which is the most important thing," said Jones.