'This Week' Panel: State of the Media

George Will, Arianna Huffington, David Remnick, and Cory Johnson on the sale of The Washington Post.
3:18 | 08/11/13

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Transcript for 'This Week' Panel: State of the Media
Our panel weighs in next. Amazon founder jeff bezos send a thunder bolt through the media world with the surprise purchase of the washington post. We've got an expert panel on what it means for that world and what bezos may do with the post. Rebecca jarvis has background. Reporter: The paper that brought down nixon and breaking news for more than a century this week made news. After 80 years, the graham family sold the washington post for $250 million to amazon founder and ceo jeff bezos. We will become a place that does its traditional jobs but tries things. And I hope it will succeed. Reporter: It won't be easy. Sales and profits both are shrinking. Circulation is down 40% in the last decade. Bezos told employees in order to turn it around, we will need to experiment. Which is exactly how amazon got started. Today it's worth more than $130 billion. Surpassing expectations as he TOLD cynthia McFadden in 2009. Did you have any idea how it was going to work? No, the business plan was very modest compared to what happened. Reporter: Bezos isn't alone. Other billionaires have jumped into the print business. What does he do next? It's innovate or die. It's dangerous not to evolve. If you want to ensure your extinction, cease to evolve. Reporter: For "this week," rebecca jarvis. Abc news, new york. Joined again by george will, your cool yum has been in the washington post for, what, 40 years? And david, for ten years. And bloomberg west tv, and arianna huffington, editor and chief of the huffington post. Started the new media. Your selling price was higher than the washington post just a couple of years ago. Yes, it's interesting how everything has changed. But it's interesting how much faster you can create a brand now. Obviously the washington post is a historic, legendary media brand. But look at brands that were created, you know, in the last few years. Twitter, 2006, instagram, 2010, huffington post, 2005. So that changes dramatically the media landscape. But I think this is wonderful news. And everything arianna mentioned, I believe you can add tumblr, instagram, they all went for higher prices than the washington post. The boston globe was bought for $1.1 billion in 1993, and sold for $70 million. They gave it away. He's earned a place in the pantheon of american business with forbes, jones, sears and roebuck, all of those. But he's a genius, maybe not a magician. Does he have to be a magician? I think he bought it for the sheer intellectual challenge of it. That's a big one. I want to get to that question, but first about donald graham. One of the old media families. They loved the washington post. Clearly didn't to want let it go. You wrote about his final speech to the post and said this was kind of a tragedy. I think his heart was broken to have to give it up. But the post was diminishing year by year, losing money and circulation. It was losing and there was no answer. There was no answer. Was it avoidable or not? Even if he made different moves, made it more national than local, embraced politico in some way and made it his own. I don't know. I don't know if that would have saved it. New york is very different from washington. The new york times is very different from the washington post. And the new york times has enough challenges as it is. Here's what interests me most, though, jeff bezos is a great innovator in technology. That's terrific. He has vastly more money than the grahams, which is important to invest in the newspaper. But will he run a newspaper that puts pressure on power. That's what interests us most. That's not a value, that's a universal among anyone, much less -- some have suggested the opposite. Perhaps he's buying protection for his business. Precisely. Cory johnson, you cover jeff bezos. You've covered -- and as I talk about his motives, george will says it's the intellectual challenge. You talk to people who know jeff bezos, the first thing out of everyone's mouth is he's smart. It's interesting in a world of smart people, hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs and technology. He's the guy they say is smart. He's quick and he's thoughtful. One of the interesting things is he built his business initially on books. Of all the things he could have sold, he chose books. He chose seattle because there was a distributor that helped him take on barnes and nobles. Wcvb. Wcvb. Wcvb. Want to bring a project, launch a multi-billion dollar business, bring the plan to the corporate meeting or to the board meeting, single-spaced, no graphics, no powerpoint slid wcvb. Wcvb. He's a distribution master. Somebody who can actually come up with different distribution channels for great journalism. And to david's point, somebody who really can use the internet to keep the feet of the powerful to the fire more effectively because the internet allows you to do that constantly. One of the ways the internet is doing it, and those who have succeeded in the new media tend to have, george will, a more clear ideological bent. Arianna, the huffington post, and others on the right. And even the billionaires who bought big newspapers seem to succeed when they have a political agenda rather than a general agenda. To the extent we know his political philosophy, it's a techie libertarianism. For gay marriage, against taxation on people like him which is perfectly sensible in my point of view. It seems to me his ideology is less important to his motives than the challenge of seeing if he can make this go. When gutenberg started with the printed word is not over because of the digital. But it's changing dramatically right now. important if he can establish a beyond left and right position for the washington post. Just look at the things we are not covering at the moment because they are divided in the absolute left-right way. The war on drugs, today in the new york times, what's happening to the california prison system. We're having a major incarceration drug war crisis. Somebody -- we know about them because we are covering these things. One of the very few places that invests in it, that puts in the investment is a place like the washington post or the new york times or I should say the new yorker as well. Now, mike bloomberg is a great innovator, but I have to say I've heard straight from the horses mouth, from mayor bloomberg that he detests the new york times. Does he want to buy it and change it? He might want to do the latter. But it's not up for sale as they have made clear for the moment. But bloomberg thinks it's an opinion on the front page. He really loathes it. That may be because he's covered day after day and has an ego the size -- I wouldn't imagine a new york mayor thought differently. No one was the richest mayor and has the capacity to buy it. He's done astonishing things in the media. Being a newspaper proprietor is the exception. So jeff bezos may in fact be a wizard in many ways. But it remains to be seen if he has the same values as the grahams. And if you trust don graham as i learned to in ten years at the washington post, I never had to trust him more than in his judgment to revive the washington post. Cory -- but one quick thing, it's not just about strengthening journalism. It's also about looking at news and seeing how can we reinvent it, how can we redefine it to move beyond simply what is covering corrupt and broke ton cover what is working. With his foundation, he's done an amazing job. But all the journalism experiments, they are trying cover what is working and don't end up creating a profit. You guys at aol had to sell patch covering local news because it just doesn't work. Our coverage of what is working has been one of the most profitable. The public and readers love it, advertisers love it. But it's critical when you have a more and more dysfunctional government to focus on what individuals, communities, startups are doing that is actually working and help scale it. It's essential right now. He can help do that. In five years, what does the washington post look like based on what you know about jeff bezos? To throw it back to the earlier premise, taking aside his work online. If you expand the conversation wider, what's worked in sports and celebrity coverage. There are passionate sites that cover culture and sports that haven't had to take a left or right view. It's not just old media in a new world. I think what you can expect from bezos is investment. The way they're investing in amazon is incredible. They have spent more in the last six months investing than any year in their history. Their spending like crazy to build up and invest. But also experimentation. You would expect him as an owner to push hard to find new ways to develop media that's appropriate for the new age that maybe the graham family couldn't figure out. Don graham sits on the board of facebook. He is not a rube when it comes to technology. Didn't invest enough. George will. Hard on bookstores, not on books. People are reading a lot. I'm in 400 newspapers, I have no idea how many people read my column in the paper or on web. I'd like to find out. Maybe he can help me. Great discussion, everyone. Thank you so much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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