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Archive for August, 2013

UNL expert alert: Washington Post sale and journalism’s digital future

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Officials with the Washington Post Co. announced Monday that its flagship paper would be sold for $250 million to Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos.

The news spells the end of the Graham family’s four generations of stewardship over one of the nation’s leading newspapers.  Bezos, to become the newspaper’s sole owner, plans to take it private to avoid shareholder pressure while he experiments with news operations.

The company’s newspaper division, of which the Post was the most prominent part, suffered a 44 percent decline in operating revenue over the past six years.  Although  the Post established itself as a popular online news source, its print circulation dwindled, falling 7 percent during the first half of 2013 alone.

Gary Kebbel, professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has spent much of his career in online media, including serving as front page editor of Washingtonpost.com during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He was founding editor of Newsweek.com and USA TODAY.com and directed the growth of AOL News from 1999-2005.

Here are some of his thoughts on the Post’s sale:

“I find it fascinating that America’s journalism giants, The New York Times Company and the Washington Post Company, through their respective fire sales of The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, are saying that traditional newspaper companies with more than a hundred years of experience each can only successfully run a newspaper in the analog age.”

“The Washington Post believes in the value of journalism so much that it is willing to say, ‘we can’t be successful in the digital age, so perhaps a digital native can. We hope a digital native can.’”

Kebbel sees the same changes occurring in advertising.

“Last week, Publicis and Omnicom combined and the respective CEOs said in the Financial Times:  ‘The pace of change which is occurring today is going to get faster, not slower.’ (John Wren, Omnicom) ‘What is true today is really not true tomorrow and we have to be prepared for that.’ (Maurice Levy, Publicis)”

“This comes after The (Chicago) Sun-Times company laid off all its photographers, and told the reporters to use their iPhones.”

All of this taken together implies that with the professions changing as fast as they are, educating for those professions is an arduously unique challenge.”

Kebbel, who departs Lincoln on Wednesday for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications annual meeting, can be reached via email at garykebbel@unl.edu or by cell at (703) 582-6758.

– Leslie Reed, University Communications