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Washington Post to be sold to founder of Amazon

The Washington Post, like most newspapers, has been losing readers and advertisers to the Internet while watching its value plummet.

JIM LO SCALZO/EPA

The Washington Post, like most newspapers, has been losing readers and advertisers to the Internet while watching its value plummet.

LOS ANGELES — Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com founder who helped bring books into the digital age, stunned the media industry Monday by announcing plans to acquire another pillar of mainstream media: The Washington Post.

Bezos, 49, struck a deal to buy the Post and other newspapers for $250 million. It was a startling demonstration of how the Internet has created winners and losers and transformed the media landscape.

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Bezos made his fortune by pioneering online shopping, first by selling books out of his Seattle garage in 1995, then with just about everything else.

The Post, like most newspapers, has been losing readers and advertisers to the Internet while watching its value plummet. The newspaper, famed for first reporting the Watergate scandal that brought the downfall of President Richard Nixon, has been forced in recent years to scale back its ambitions, cut its newsroom staff repeatedly, and close several bureaus.

Bezos is buying the newspaper as an individual. Amazon.com Inc. is not involved.

The deal includes all the publishing businesses owned by The Washington Post Co., including the Express tabloid, The Gazette Newspapers in Maryland, Southern Maryland Newspapers, the Fairfax County Times, El Tiempo Latino, and Greater Washington Publishing.

The Washington Post Co. plans to retain Slate magazine, The Root.com, and Foreign Policy magazine.

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Washington Post Co. chairman Donald Graham called Bezos a ‘‘uniquely good new owner.’’ He said the decision was made after years of newspaper industry challenges. The company, which owns the Kaplan education business and several TV stations, will change its name but didn’t say what the new name will be.

Bezos said in a statement that he understands the Post’s ‘‘critical role’’ in Washington and said its values won’t change.

‘‘The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners,’’ Bezos said to Post employees in a letter distributed to the media. ‘‘We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.’’

Katharine Weymouth, the newspaper’s publisher and a member of the Graham family, which has owned the newspaper since 1933, will remain in her post. She has asked other senior managers to stay on as well, including executive editor Martin Baron, the former editor of The Boston Globe who joined the Post in January.

‘‘Mr. Bezos knows as well as anyone the opportunities that come with revolutionary technology when we understand how to make the most of it,’’ Weymouth said in a letter to readers. ‘‘Under his ownership and with his management savvy, we will be able to accelerate the pace and quality of innovation.’’

Baron said he was surprised to learn last week that the paper was being sold.

“I’m encouraged that the paper will be in the hands of a successful businessperson who understands the world of technology as well as anyone,’’ Baron said. “He’s expressed his commitment to the organization and to its continued independence. . . . I came here because I wanted to join a great news organization, and it will continue to be one.”

Bezos said in his letter to employees that he would be keeping his ‘‘day job’’ as Amazon CEO and a life in ‘‘the other Washington’’ where Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle are based.

The news surprised industry observers and even the newspaper’s employees.

‘‘I think we’re all still in shock,’’ said Robert McCartney, one of the Post’s metro columnists and a 31-year veteran.

Graham spoke at a staff meeting and said he is convinced Bezos is committed to quality journalism and has no political agenda. There was a long standing ovation from the staff after Graham’s and Weymouth’s remarks.

Writer Gene Weingarten tweeted, ‘‘If Don Graham says this was the right thing to do, I trust him.’’

Fredrick Kunkle, a metro reporter and a union leader at the Post, said there is also apprehension among staff. ‘‘The Graham family has been revered in this town, rightly so,’’ he said. ‘‘We all have a lot of questions.’’

To observers, Bezos is eminently qualified to be a newspaper owner: He’s rich, he’s innovative, and he’s willing to live with slim profits. That’s proven by his running of Amazon. Last month, Amazon.com Inc. reported a surprise loss in the April-June quarter even though revenue grew 22 percent to $15.7 billion.

The Poynter Institute’s media and business analyst, Rick Edmonds, compared Bezos’s purchase of the Post to billionaire John Henry’s $70 million purchase of The Boston Globe, which was announced Saturday.

The newspaper transactions remove well-loved, established publications from publicly traded parent companies that had to answer to shareholders who demanded good quarterly financial results.

Alan Mutter, a media consultant and former newspaper editor, noted this deal marks the first time a newspaper has been bought by a ‘‘digital native,’’ not someone entrenched in the print medium.

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