The Washington Post Company is not just a newspaper. And it if goes bankrupt it will not be the first time.
The Post was founded in 1877 by Stilson Hutchins to further the views of the Democratic Party. The Post was a partisan rag that switched sides depending on the ownership until 1933.
In 1933 The Post was sold in bankruptcy. Eugene Meyer bought the paper and set out a new goal for the paper: to tell the truth. And the truth turned out to be much more profitable.
Meyer gave over management of the post to Philip Graham, his son-in-law in 1946.
In the next few decades the paper bought TV stations, the competition in town and Newsweek magazine.
Graham was manically depressed and committed suicide in 1963, his wife Katharine took over for him.
Katharine had only briefly been a reporter before getting married and she didn’t have any business expirience.
But Katharine under her leadership the paper flourished. IN went public and became a Fortune 500 company.
Katharine stood up to the Federal government and published stories based on the Pentagon Papers, when they were leaked in 1971 until an injunction was filed. This made the paper’s name almost as notable and respected as the New York Times.
In 1972 two Washington Post reporters began writing about and investigating the bugging of the Democratic National Convention, which leads to uncovering the Watergate scandal.
They find in a series of stories the following:
A $25,000 cashier’s check, from the Nixon campaign went to the bank account of a Watergate burglar.
John Mitchell, attorney general, controlled a secret Republican fund used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democrats,
FBI agents establish break-in is part of a campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon reelection effort,
After years of hearings, eventually President Richard Nixon is implicated in the spying and sabotage operation by witnesses.
During this period, Katharine faced intimidation by members of the Republican party who questioned the licenses of the TV stations the Post owned.
This caused the Post’s stock to drop but she stood by her reporters.
Since then The Washington Post as a company as continued to diversify buying Kaplan a for-profit education company, CableOne, and a newspaper chain in Maryland.
Kaplan once a huge asset, is now shrinking in part because of not meeting accreditation standards.
They have tried to pursue the online market aggressively and the New York Times reports that the Post itself is profitable but their newspaper division lost $26 million in the first three quarters of 2011.
The paper tried to launch a social reader component partnering with Facebook, but the readership has not seen encouraging growth.
In 2010 the company sold Newsweek, once a huge brand in the industry, but now loosing money by the millions.
Newsweek announced that it plans to stop publication in December and go up behind a Paywall as Newsweek Global. It’s counterpart The Daily Beast will continue as usual.
The Washington Post as of yet does not have a paywall.
The Washington Post is surely an interesting case study of an institution that changed the country and now is struggling to redefine itself.