Donald Graham – Former Publisher and Chairman of The Washington Post

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Manage episode 186972863 series 1261045
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Donald Graham on his mother, Katharine Graham ~ ". . . my mother was one of the highest ranking women in American business. To say that she was unsure of herself is a gross understatement, she went through life telling people she was not up to the job, she was scared, and all the while she was doing just an incredible job." A Ockershausen: Our guest today has been described by his colleagues as an incredibly nice person. Always willing to give advice, especially to young business people, I'm included in that. An amazing human being, a lovely lovely man. The Dudley Do-Right of the newspaper business. The rare mogul who puts principles and people ahead of profits. I've personally known Donald Graham for almost 50 years, throughout my career at WMAL, WMAL TV Channel 7, The Washington Star Group, which don't exist anymore, but WMAL Radio's still here thank God. I knew Donald when he was in school and when he was in the military and when he got out and his work with the city, but Donald, I'm so so so happy that you would agree to this discussion because you are a very big important part of Our Town. Donald Graham: I'm very happy to be with you Andy, this is fun to talk about DC with somebody who's been part of it as long as you and I have. A Ockershausen: Correct. Donald Graham: This is great. A Ockershausen: Which was the genesis for everything that we're doing with Our Town. Donald Graham: It's a great idea. A Ockershausen: You know, Our Town includes the suburbs, you know, we just don't limit it to downtown DC, but it's all Our Town and the fact is The Post was so important to everything that happened to Our Town over the last 75-80 years, it's been just great. Donald Graham: The media were, the newspapers were, you ran the radio station you ran, you know most people that were in the radio business somewhere else, don't imagine there could have been a radio station as big as WMAL was in its day, but you know ... A Ockershausen: People couldn't understand it. Donald Graham: Yeah, you ran a ... A Ockershausen: But, we were all about Our Town. That's why we were successful. Donald Graham: Yeah, you were, you had the most popular people and The Post. A Ockershausen: The Post was Our Town and always was, I remember reading about when your grandfather bought the paper, it was pretty much on the rocks compared to the other papers. Donald Graham's Grandfather, Eugene Meyer, Buys The Washington Post Donald Graham: So, my grandfather Eugene Meyer, bought the Washington Post at a bankruptcy sale in June of 1933, so why was it bankrupt? Well, there were five papers in town. The Post was the fourth in circulation out of five. Star was the biggest, then there were The Times, The Herald, and The News. The post claimed a circulation of 50,000. In her book. My mother wrote that she was skeptical that they had 50,000 circulation, but that's what they claimed. It had this run down rattle-trap building on 1337 E Street, right where the JW Marriott Hotel is on Pennsylvania Avenue now. A Ockershausen: Know it quite well, Basses Delicatessen or something was right there. Donald Graham: Yeah, but they had no money, they were losing money every year. I knew a guy who consulted for Mr. Meyer back in the 30's and said that Mr. Meyer told this consultant that he hoped the business would break even in three years. He would improve the paper, that would increase the circulation, maybe the advertising, it took him 21 years. He paid the losses out of his own pocket and he didn't own any other business. He was a hell of a guy. He bought The Post, he was 57 years old. He had never run a business and he had never worked on a newspaper, but he made a lot of money on Wall Street when it was tough to make money on Wall Street and then had come to work for the ... He was French, so when World War I broke out, good luck for me, he came down here to volunteer to work for President Wilson helping organize American business for the war an...

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