The future of journalism seemed to be on a lot of minds last weekend, and not just at a panel by that name at the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival. The stunning news that the Graham family had sold the Washington Post after eight decades to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for two hundred and fifty million dollars eclipsed another major milestone in the newspaper industry: the sale of the Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry for seventy million.
The Vineyard, and in fact the Vineyard Gazette, are recurring threads in the tapestry of American journalism over the past century. It was the Gazette’s legendary editor, Henry Beetle Hough, who in 1972 persuaded Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham to buy Mohu, a historic and storied two hundred and eighteen-acre West Tisbury property, to keep it out of the hands of developers.
James (Scotty) Reston had been a distinguished New York Times reporter and columnist when he bought the Gazette from Mr. Hough in 1967 and burnished its national reputation. Many of the top newsmen and commentators of the twentieth century spent summers here: Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Tony Lewis, Art Buchwald, to name a few, and it’s a rare summer week when a member of the national press corps doesn’t drop by our offices.
It is news that even the finest national newspapers are selling for a fraction of their onetime values, and there are many reasons to be concerned about what that means for the future of journalism. Even today, print newspapers are by far the largest source of original news reporting, according to the Pew Research Center, and their decline could leave a gaping hole.
There are no easy answers, but we are fortunate to have our own new owners, Jerry and Nancy Kohlberg, who want nothing more or less than to see quality journalism survive in a changing media environment.
We don’t yet know the motives or plans of Mr. Henry, Mr. Bezos and the growing new guard of newspaper owners. But we’d invite them to the Vineyard where the sunshine and fine salt air appears to inspire media greatness. The need for quality fact-based reporting is more critical than ever; the challenge now is how to sustain it.