Jack Ohman

The Washington Post, American democracy, and corduroy blazers...

The news that The Washington Post was sold by the Graham family to Amazon's Jeff Bezos for $250 million today inspired a wide range of personal emotions. I can assure you that every single newspaper employee in the United States is going to discuss this over beers tonight.

First, I heard it about in a text message (new media), and then I tweeted the Post's own story about it (new media), and then I sent an IM to an acquaintance at the Post about it (new media). Oh, then I posted it on Facebook (new media).

I like old media. It gives you more time to gather your thoughts. You know, like when you're writing in your blog (new media).


Second, I have had a long professional shoestring relationship with the Post going back 33 years, one that I am very proud of. The Post was my first major newspaper client, and they are still my client today. If I get a cartoon reprinted in The Washington Post, I am pretty certain that every single congressman, senator, and congressional staffer had a chance to take a look at it when they run the round-up of cartoons on Saturday. So the Post is important to me.

Third, I am well-acquainted with Donald Graham's wife, Amanda Bennett, who worked with me at The Oregonian (and was the former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and is now at Bloomberg News). I was good friends with The Post's late ombudsman, Deborah Howell. I knew the legendary cartoonist Herblock, and was moved, in part, to read cartoons and later draw cartoons because of him. I love the work of the Post's Tom Toles, and enjoy his company. I knew the great Post political reporter David Broder, a true gentleman. In fact, if someone wanted to blast The Washington Post for liberal bias, I would have sent them for a long chat with David Broder first, and then see what they said after that. I doubt they would have held the same view.

In many ways, I decided to go into journalism because of The Washington Post, and so did a lot of my friends. We saw All The President's Men, and that's what we wanted to do. I even bought a corduroy blazer as worn by Robert Redford in the movie. I have no idea whether Bob Woodward had one or not. My guess is that there are tens of thousands of people about my age in journalism now because of The Washington Post.

And the corduroy blazer tailors made a killing.

So when I heard that the Graham family had sold the newspaper that had been in their family (it was originally purchased by Eugene Meyer, Katharine Graham's father) for 80 years, it brought back a raft of memories. 

Jeff Bezos, the new owner, isn't anyone I am concerned about wrecking the institution of the Post--that's the most important thing. I think the future survival of American democracy still rests on serious newspapers like The Washington Post, and let me give you an illustration of why I think that.

Example A: "Senator, this is Cindy Lou Who of my own website called "Cindy Lou Reports!"


Example B: "Senator, this is Cindy Lou Who of The Washington Post."

(Hello, Cindy. Good to hear from you. Did my press guy send you that briefing material?)

So the Post is still important. Very. 

The Post, along with about ten or twelve other major news gathering institutions, basically keep the heat on the federal government and the major political parties. If these organizations somehow went away, or became dramatically weakened, I honestly would fear for the survival of American democracy. 

So, farewell to the Graham family ownership. They did a great job with The Washington Post, and I wish them well. Another chapter of my youth in American newspapers has passed.

Does anyone know where I can get a nice, new corduroy blazer?