The news that the Graham family was selling the Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has sent shock waves through the media landscape.
- Now how, pray tell, would this subject find itself discussed on a Pittsburgh Steelers blog?
Truthfully, there is no direct link.
But the roots of any good story always lie in the back story, and that brings us to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Steelers minority owner Thomas Tull.
These are hard times for newspapers, as readers and, more importantly, advertisers gravitate to the internet.
- And there is a cruel irony to this process.
It is a fair bet to say that more eyes probably land on most major dailies than would have been dreamed of a generation ago. The internet has reduced all of the logistical distribution nightmares and corresponding costs to next to zero.
- Yet for all of that, newspapers continue to cut costs, cut staffs yet still struggle to break even, let alone make a profit.
Elliot King, chairman of the Loyola University Maryland’s Writing and Media department and author of Free For All, a 2010 book on the newspaper industry’s struggles in the digital age, contends that one of the culprits in newspaper’s demise is corporate ownership.
Conversely, King contends, family owned papers have fared better.
- But the Washington Post, while publicly traded, remained family controlled.
Yet the Graham family, which has owned and run the paper for four generations, ultimately determined that the only way for the paper to thrive was to take it private, which meant selling it off.
This was true in spite of the fact that the Washington Post is an internationally recognized brand name, serving well-heeled, well educated market with a website that is one of the top news destinations.
- Nonetheless, the Graham family felt it had no choice.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steel City’s flagship publication is also family owned. And in 2006 its owners publicly flirted with selling the paper due to increasing labor costs.
While the Steel Curtain Rising has no inside information on the Post-Gazette’s balance sheet, there is no way the paper can remain immune from the pressures of faced by the entire industry.
To be sure, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette faring better than others. Last year the paper reported a circulation increase. That’s right, the newspaper saw its circulation increase. Certainly the paper benefits for the large concentration of elderly in Western Pennsylvania, readers who prefer newsprint to iPads.
- But that benefit comes with a Catch-22.
As those readers move on to their heavenly reward, younger ones do not take their place.
It is more than plasuable that the Block family, which owns the Post-Gazette, could face the same decision forced upon the Grahams.
- But who to sell to?
Well, Pittsburgh has its share of wealthy, but the Rooney family’s 2008 restructuring of the Steelers ownership group also brought connections to young, wealthy, innovator in the form of Steelers minority owner Thomas Tull.
Thomas Tull might not be a household name, but if you’ve seen any of the Batman Dark Knight movies, then you can thank him.
Would Tull be interested? Who knows? Jeff Bezos reportedly had no overt interest in entering the newspaper business until two days ago.
- Since partnering with the Rooneys, Steelers minority owner Thomas Tull has done his part to help promote the city.
Someday he could be called on to shore up one of its leading media institutions.