The Washington Post Co. is selling its flagship newspaper to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, for $250 million US.
The deal will see Bezos take control of the 136-year-old paper — a cornerstone of U.S. political coverage perhaps best known for its role in the Watergate scandal, the Pentagon Papers and more recent revelations about eavesdropping by the NSA.
Bezos indicated he will remain at arm’s length from the Post and keep its current executives in place.
"I won't be leading The Washington Post day-to-day," he wrote in a memo to staff, noting he already has a "day job."
"The paper's duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners," he added. "We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we'll work hard not to make mistakes."
The 49-year-old entrepreneur and e-retailing magnate is one of the world’s richest men, with an estimated personal net worth of $25 billion US.
Amazon will have no role in the purchase. Bezos will be the company's sole owner upon completion of the deal, expected within 60 days.
The deal includes other Post family newspapers. The Washington Post. Co. will change its name, and retain ownership of other assets including the Kaplan education business, several TV stations, and the websites Slate and Foreign Policy.
Despite its storied history the Post conceded it has been hurt by the "financial turmoil" that has engulfed many U.S. newspapers.
"The Post could have survived under the company’s ownership and been profitable for the foreseeable future," company chairman and CEO Donald Graham told the paper. "But we wanted to do more than survive. I’m not saying this guarantees success but it gives us a much greater chance of success."
The paper has been owned by the Graham family since 1933.
The company was shopped "with extraordinary secrecy" by the investment firm Allen & Co.
The Poynter Institute's media and business analyst, Rick Edmonds, compared Bezos' purchase of the Post to billionaire John Henry's $70 million US purchase of The Boston Globe, which was announced Saturday.
The newspaper transactions remove well-loved, established publications from publicly traded parent companies which had to answer to shareholders who demanded good quarterly financial results.
"This means putting the Post in the hands of a wealthy individual who can take as long as he needs and spend as much money as he wishes in keeping the paper strong," Edmonds said.
"That's a much better situation than a company with other faster-growing businesses trying to justify that same investment."