The sale of the Post saddens me, as owner of a Washington-based family media company. Like most people, I understand the business reasons. But emotionally, it is a very tough pill to swallow. In many ways, the Post will be better off in private hands, without Wall Street peering down on a daily basis. But without a local owner, it’s hard to imagine the Post maintaining the same stewardship for the Washington community.
The Merrill and Graham families have been friends through three generations. For four decades, my father published five newspapers in Maryland, including the Annapolis Capital, nipping at the heels of the Post. And in the 1970s, we bought Washingtonian in its own backyard. While we competed, Kay Graham became my father’s great mentor and friend. He, in turn, became one of her large shareholders and dedicated a page in the magazine each month to the latest gossip and news from inside the Post, serving for many years as its own local watchdog.
Like the Grahams and the Allbrittons—who own Politico and once owned the Washington Star—I have to face the people everyday who we write about and hear the things they liked and didn’t. Unlike the chain owners who run most of the nation’s newspapers, we know we will hear directly if we don’t “get it right.” Will an owner get that from far away in that other Washington?
To me, the people who work at Washingtonian are not “employees;” they are not part of an 88,000-person organization like Amazon. Our employees are family. With every hiring and firing decision, I feel the responsibility for their mortgages, their families, their livelihoods. I know their stories. I’m not saying Bezos doesn’t care about his employees—I’m sure he does—but there is a extra-heavy weight on the shoulders of local business owners. We see our people regularly in our community, our readers and our story subjects.
When my father passed away in 2006 and I took over Washingtonian, Don Graham was one of the first people to reach out to me. Our fathers shared similar and dramatic deaths. Don’s kindness is legendary, and it was a blessing to talk with him about it. What I most remember from our conversation was the first-class business advice I got. He told me: “You don’t necessarily need to hire the smartest person, but you need to hire someone all the smart people really want to work for.” With Bezos, the Post now has both: an obviously brilliant individual, but also someone who will attract talent and cutting-edge thought leadership.
I just wish he lived in our Washington.
Cathy Merrill Williams is the president and publisher of Washingtonian Media. She lives in Northwest DC with her husband, Paul, and their two sons.