The only thing in common among the crowd of people buying up media properties – among them, a baseball team owner, a young tech entrepreneur, a middle-aged tech entrepreneur, a grocery distribution tycoon, and the most well-known investor in the country – is that they've made much of their money in other industries.
Jeff Bezos, who announced Monday he would buy the Washington Post for $250 million, is also CEO of Amazon and is worth $25 billion. John Henry, who is buying the Boston Globe for $70 million, owns the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club. John Georges, who bought the Baton Rouge-based Advocate this year, is at the helm of a corporation that includes a grocery distributorship and several other ventures. Philip Anschutz, who in 2005 started the Washington Examiner (until recently, a daily newspaper) and bought print magazine Weekly Standard in 2009, started in the oil and rail business and now owns a wide variety of companies. Chris Hughes, who bought The New Republic earlier this year, is a Facebook cofounder. And Warren Buffett, who continues to rapidly add to his long list of newspapers and web sites, is Warren Buffett.
Those rich men, along with many other media business buyers, are also similar in that they've waded into a very tough industry. Bezos will get a newspaper that has posted a 44 percent drop in operating revenue in the last six years. Henry is buying the Globe for $70 million, a small fraction of the $1.1 billion the New York Times Company paid for it 20 years ago.
Financial troubles are an industry-wide problem as the Internet eats away at print publications' revenues. According to the Pew Research Center, newspapers lost 15 advertising dollars on the print side for every digital advertising dollar they gained in 2012.
It may be that these businesspeople all believe they have the long-sought secret to making the news profitable again. But the answer seems far more complicated. Already financially stable and wielding diverse business holdings, these people arguably have the stability to purchase and transform businesses whose ledgers are shaky. Or, put more succinctly, they're in it for something more ephemeral than dollars and cents.
"I don't think they're being flip about it. Because people who are wealthy, they're not flip about any decision that they make. I think they're getting into it for the power of the press," says Lou Ann Sabatier, a former media consultant and current CEO of MediaDC, which publishes the Washington Examiner, Weekly Standard, and Red Alert Politics.
That power can come in the form of writing the occasional strongly worded editorial or getting talking-head spots on CNN, but it more importantly comes in the form being associated with the most trusted brands in America.
"They're just proud to have that as part of their portfolio because of what it represents," says Sabatier. "It's the one thing that you can't manufacture. ... It took many, many years to earn the reputation or stature or legacy of the Globe or the L.A. Times or the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post."
Hughes echoed that sentiment in a piece this week about the Washington Post sale.
"I'm guessing that Bezos understands an old truism: brands matter. The wonder and magic of institutions like the Post or The New Republic is their history—their stories track the American story," he wrote.
Likewise, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Buffett has explained that he and his vice chairman, Charlie Munger, maintain less stringent standards for their newspaper purchases than for other companies.
"Charlie and I love newspapers and, if their economics make sense, will buy them even when they fall far short of the size threshold we would require for the purchase of, say, a widget company," wrote Buffett in a letter to investors this year. With the sale of the Washington Post, Berkshire Hathaway's 28 percent stake in the paper will come to an end, and Buffett's company will gain over $50 million.
For some, the desire to acquire a news brand also includes a streak of local pride.
"I'm someone who buys Louisiana legacy businesses." says Georges. He purchased the Advocate and is helping the daily paper to expand into New Orleans, where the Times-Picayune cut printing to three days per week last year.
Georges, who bought the Advocate from the family that had owned the paper since the early 1900s, believes that his status as an entrepreneur sets him aside from the scions of old newspaper families.
"It's all a different perspective. They're trying to hold onto a family empire, and I'm trying to grow a business," he says.
From media companies' perspective, the need to give up old business models and even family legacies has helped to lead to the new rush of entrepreneurs, says one expert.
"I think there's now a real search by the legacy owners to find people with different skill sets that may be required to save these publications and the industry in general," says Mark Jurkowitz, former Boston Globe reporter and associate director at the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
He points to the Washington Post, where the Graham family acknowledged the need for new leadership.
"We were certain the paper would survive under our ownership, but we wanted it to do more than that. We wanted it to succeed," wrote CEO Don Graham in a letter to Post employees this week.
That success is anything but assured for outsider investors. Philanthropist and electronics company founder Sidney Harman bought Newsweek in 2010 and quickly merged it with The Daily Beast, leaving him and Barry Diller's IAC, Daily Beast owner, each with a 50 percent stake. After Harman's 2011 death, his family took over his stake but shortly thereafter said it would no longer invest in the publication. IAC recently sold Newsweek to IBT media, which publishes the International Business Times.Though Buffett, Henry and Bezos may not have a roadmap to that success, one other key trait they share is the belief that they can at least do something to boost flagging papers to better health, says Sabatier.
"These are all brilliant business people in their own respects," she says. "Somebody could give you something, but if you can't do anything with it, you didn't get a bargain."