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Donald Graham’s grandfather, Eugene Meyer, famously bought The Washington Post at a bankruptcy sale in 1933, and the family has been deeply invested in the newspaper ever since. After stints as a reporter, sports editor and publisher with the paper, Graham now serves as CEO of The Washington Post Company. Kojo talks with Graham about the future of D.C.’s fabled daily, the varied holdings of The Washington Post Company, and his time as a D.C. cop.
- Donald Graham Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, The Washington Post Company
Washington Post Company Board Chairman and CEO Donald Graham talks about his relationship with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and how he released Zuckerberg from their spoken (not written) investment agreement back in 2005:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. For the head of a Fortune 500 company and a familiar, some might say, legendary D.C. family, Donald Graham manages to keep a pretty low profile. He's won a lot of hats over the course of his career: soldier, D.C. police officer, reporter, sports editor and publisher of The Washington Post, and, now, CEO of The Washington Post Company, where he oversees a variety of education and media holdings.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAlong the way, he's built close relationships with everyone from the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, to Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg and earned a reputation as one of the nicest moguls you'll ever meet. But the newspaper faces serious challenges in The Washington Post's stewardship of Kaplan has been the target of significant criticism. Donald Graham joins us in studio. He is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company. Don Graham, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DONALD GRAHAMA joy to be here. I was a couple of old D.C. people here and...
NNAMDIYes, indeed. I always think of you as a local guy.
GRAHAMMy big shock in preparing for this program is I have always thought of you as somebody 20 years younger than me.
NNAMDIOh, no. Oh, no. I am actually some months older than you are.
GRAHAMNo. We are the same age.
NNAMDIWell, about the same age, but I have the edge.
GRAHAMYou know, but I have -- you know, I think of him as this ridiculously young man.
NNAMDIOh, no. We both arrived here about the same time, at least in terms of our working lives. And one of the things that has always most intrigued me about you is why you made a decision in 1969, before any professional association with The Washington Post, to become a patrolman for the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. What made you decide to become a cop in 1969?
GRAHAMWell, I'll give you the short version of a long story, Kojo.
GRAHAMI was born here. I went to Saint Albans, and I grew up in my mom's house in Georgetown at the corner of 30th and R. When I was growing up, the publisher of The Washington Post was not my mom, but was my dad, Phil Graham, who also ran -- also owned WTOP AM/FM and TV right across the street from here back in that day. But my dad died, committed suicide, sadly, in 1963. Before his death, I had not particularly thought of -- that I would come to work for The Post anytime soon, though I was a little newspaper junkie. After his death, my mom took over.
GRAHAMShe would have said had to take over. And in all her conversations with everyone, she made it clear that she wanted help. And I had been the editor of my high school paper and my college paper. When I got of college in 1966, I was drafted. I served two years in the Army, including one year in a (unintelligible) job in Vietnam. I was discharged from the Army in July 1968. The riot in Washington had taken place in April.
GRAHAMAnd, as I thought about possibly going to work for The Post, which she wanted me to do, I realized I didn't know much about the city, and I wanted to do something to learn a little about it from somebody's point of view other than a newspaper reporter's 'cause, you know, a reporter has a great point of view. But it's only one point of view. So I thought of teaching, but, at that time, you needed a degree in education. There was no Teach for America. So the cops were desperate for people. It was all men at the time on patrol.
GRAHAMThere were a handful of women in the youth division. And the draft was on. The Vietnam War was on. So it was very hard for them to recruit.
GRAHAMAnd, for historic reasons that some of your older listeners will remember, the D.C. police had been dramatically increased in numbers, from 2,600 police to 5,100 in just a couple of years.
GRAHAMSo I spoke to not Maurice Turner, but his brother Karl who was then in charge of recruiting, was a lieutenant. And I told him that if I came on, I would stay only but 18 months. And he said that would be above average.
NNAMDIYeah. They came and went in those days. What did you learn as a result of walking a beat?
GRAHAMI learned I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. I learned that I -- you know, I did well in the police academy, but it's a job where experience counts a lot. I learned that there are great police out working the streets of the city. It was -- there was an old No. 9 Precinct at 525 Maryland Ave., NE.
GRAHAMIt was a mixed group, but I served with some officers that you'd have loved to have to come to your house if there were a grave emergency. And, you know...
NNAMDIAnd it would appear that you got to know a few people in the neighborhoods also because many years later when Katherine Boo, who was with The Washington Post -- she was a guest here recently talking about her latest book -- when she was reporting in that part of Northeast, people were telling her you better get the story, the facts right, or I'll tell Donnie.
GRAHAMKate Boo, I've loved working at The Post for over 40 years. And I've worked with some people that I admire beyond all telling. Kate Boo, no longer at The Post, but still forever a part of us, is a hero of mine, and...
GRAHAM...both of us, I think, would tell any listener, if you want to read one of the most extraordinary books of your life, buy her book about Mumbai. Katherine Boo, B-O-O, there aren't too...
NNAMDIYou won't want to put it down, I guarantee that.
NNAMDIBut we're talking with Donald Graham. He is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company. And inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. 800-433-8850. You can send a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there if you have questions or comments for Donald Graham.
NNAMDIBefore we get to the newspaper, Facebook -- you met Mark Zuckerberg in the early days of Facebook and struck up a friendly co-mentoring kind of relationship. What is it that you two share in common, and are there qualities of his that you've adopted or vice versa?
GRAHAMI shared a lot of things with Mark. Mark is -- I met Mark in January 2005, which you can think of as two months after the end of the movie. And he came in because a wonderful man named Chris Ma, who was one of the half dozen vice presidents at The Post Company. Chris, who died last December, had a daughter, Olivia, who was a classmate of Mark's. And both Chris and Olivia were fascinated by Facebook.
GRAHAMAnd she told him Mark was coming to D.C., so Mark came in to talk to Chris. And Chris and Gerry Rosberg brought him in to see me. And I listened for 20 minutes, and I said this is the best business idea I've heard in a long time. And I've watched him and listened to him ever since. And he's just one of these extraordinary once every-10-year people who has a...
NNAMDIBut you did a remarkable thing. You and Mark Zuckerberg agreed to the terms of a Washington Post investment in Facebook. He agreed to the terms. And then, later on, he got an offer that he found more appealing from someone else, and you remarkably released him from that offer, which people who look at these things say would have made The Post a bundle of money that it could use right now. Do you ever regret making that decision, or do you simply think you did the right thing?
GRAHAMYou know, of course, but, you know, to begin with, Mark was 20 years old. And the first thing I said to him when I started the conversation and said, you know, I have never before or since proposed a venture investment in a company. But in January of 2005, after 20 minutes listening to Mark, I said, in the end, you probably won't want to do this. In fact, I think I said, you almost certainly won't want to do this. But if you wanted an investor who's not a venture capitalist, The Post would be willing to invest in your company.
GRAHAMBut the reason I said, in the end, you won't want to do this played out, Mark never signed anything. We had no legally binding agreement. And when he went back to Silicon Valley, as I knew would happen, people who invest in these startups, oh, you know, twice what The Post is offering -- three times, four times. So he -- this is a barely 20-year-old. He called me, and he said, I feel I have a moral dilemma. I've been offered much more money for investment in the company, but I gave you my word. And let's talk about it. And I obviously thought of saying, well, you know, suppose we match it?
GRAHAMBut I knew that any V.C. would -- you know, would likely offer still more because they are going -- their business is raising money from other people to invest in venture companies. They were thinking -- they're looking for something that might be a hit to raise their next fund. And The Post wasn't -- you know, that isn't our business. We weren't going to raise the next fund. And, obviously, the valuation was getting very high for a company that, at that time, literally, had no revenue. So we talked it over, and I did say to Mark just what you said. We talked for about 20 minutes.
GRAHAMAnd I said, your life will be different if you do this. And they will treat you slightly differently than we will. And in the end, I said, yeah, I'll release you from your moral dilemma. I thought it was -- you know, I thought it was one -- yet one more sample of what an unusual 20-year-old Mark...
NNAMDIHas anybody ever yelled at you for making that decision?
NNAMDIHow could you, Don?
GRAHAM(unintelligible) You -- I've done worse than that. I met Warren Buffett in 1974, and Berkshire Hathaway stock was selling at $50 a share. Today, it's at $122,000. Not -- it was $50. So if all I had done was said, you know -- luckily for us, about 25 percent of The Washington Post Company pension fund was put into Berkshire a few years later.
GRAHAMBut that was a much bigger miss than Facebook.
NNAMDIWell, let me go back to Facebook for a second because yesterday The Washington Post cared to report that Facebook may have kicked off its long awaited IPO on Monday. Can you tell us whether that's true?
GRAHAMNo. I am a director of Facebook. Facebook has filed an SEC statement preparing for its IPO and, therefore, is in a quiet period. So I'll tell you -- I told you the story about Mark and me in 2005 'cause it's a well-known story, but I can't comment on any aspect of Facebook's affairs because of the quiet period.
NNAMDIOr actually I -- do you say that. Your close relationship with investment guru Warren Buffett, who served as director of The Washington Post Company until last year, goes back even further. It's my understanding that you call him the Supreme Court.
NNAMDIWhy is that?
GRAHAMWell, on investment matters, I -- in this, as in many things, my greatest piece of luck was being Katharine Graham's son. Warren, without knowing us, without any -- without conversation with us, bought 10 or 11 percent of the company in the public market in 1974. My mother literally got a letter saying: Dear Mrs. Graham, I bought 10 percent of your company, which you're required -- the SEC requires that an investor inform the CEO of the company after buying 10 percent of the stock.
GRAHAMShe said -- she called me up and said, I've got this letter from Warren Buffett. And we both said the same thing, which was, who's Warren Buffett? This was 1974, and Warren Buffett was not a famous man. No one -- believe me, Katharine Graham was a reasonably well-informed citizen and business leader.
NNAMDIAnd she did not...
GRAHAMShe read The Wall Street Journal every day, and this was not a name she knew. So she talked to people, and most of the people said, stay the hell away. You know, these Wall Street people all talk real nice. But she went out and met Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett. Charlie is still at 88, Warren's vice chairman, and she same back and said, these are the two smartest people I ever met.
GRAHAMAnd Warren -- it was the lowest stock market of Warren's lifetime, 1974. He still talks about it. And he invested in dozens of companies at the time. Katharine Graham was smart enough to put him on the board, make him, in effect, our lead director, which he remained for most of the next, I don't know, more than, you know, 30...
GRAHAM...way, way over 30 years. And we'd pick up the phone and call him on any recommendation. So what do I mean by the Supreme Court? You know, people will argue -- when you run a company as Mrs. Graham did all those years, and as I now do, you think to yourself, should we invest in X, should we invest in Y, and if so, at what price? This is what Warren has done all his life. And you can kid yourself about your experience, and you're savvy. There is no one, no one who judges these more successfully over the years than Warren.
GRAHAMSo should the -- you know, should The Post bid for The Boston Globe when that was for sale back in the '90s? You know, our -- my instinct and then her -- my mother's instinct was, let's call Warren, let's see what he thinks it's worth. Let's bid that. And if we don't get it, let's walk away. And in that sense, you know, you are always looking for wise advisers who are concerned enough about your company to help you. And we were inconceivably lucky that he invested. But Kate Graham was an extraordinary judge to understand, you know, to say, I'm going to listen to him.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Donald Graham. He is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850, or you can send email to Kojo, K-O-J-O, @wamu.org. Are you a Washington Post reader? What issues do you have, or what issues do you turn to the paper for coverage of? When we come back, we'll be discussing the paper.
NNAMDIAnd here's something that you don't know about Donald Graham, and that is that there'll be a tastemaker profile coming up in The Washington Post pretty soon, in which yours truly is one of about six people approached by a freelance reporter to do these tastemaker profiles. But this happened long after we started scheduling this interview with you back in January. That's how come I know you don't about it. Something to look forward to. We'll...
GRAHAMAnd I do not.
NNAMDIWe'll take a short break. When we come back, our conversation with Don Graham continues. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Donald Graham. He is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company. Don Graham, you were with The Washington Post during all of its greatest glory days of Watergate and under the stewardship of your mother, and then you took over the paper. Today, you're operating in a different media environment that makes it more difficult to figure out how to steer the ship.
NNAMDITell us about the difficulties you're confronting. The Post recently announced its fifth round of buy-outs since 2004. How difficult is it to run a major city newspaper in this changing media environment?
GRAHAMWell, it's difficult. I -- you're right, Kojo. I came to The Post as a reporter in -- a district reporter in 1971, and I wasn't even the best reporter we hired in 1971 because, in late 1971, we hired a guy named Bob Woodward. And, you know, I would say that is an extraordinary person. But it is true. We've had five rounds of buy-outs at The Post. We have fewer people than we did, say, in 1989, which was probably the best year we ever had.
NNAMDIBut more than you did in 1971?
GRAHAMWe have twice as many as we did in 1971, which was the year of the Pentagon Papers and the year before Watergate, but, you know, it's challenging. I -- and I've been -- I just wrote this in The Post Company annual report. I've been saying it to people. I love The Post and the people who work there and the people I've worked with all my life and have known real well. And, obviously, first of all, I don't run The Post on a daily basis anymore. Katharine Weymouth is the publisher and, I think, a great one.
GRAHAMBut the job is tougher now. But if you were going to pick a newspaper you wanted to be the publisher of at this point, you'd probably pick this one because the staff is great, because we're in the capital of the free world, the capital of the United States, and everybody cares about us because, while it's clear that younger people are no longer as interested in newspapers as my generation was, I think they're just as interested in news.
GRAHAMAnd I think quality news reporting, like we both -- you know, like your organization does and, I think, our organization does is something that the people I know in their 20s and 30s care about a lot. I would bet you have a lot of callers to this program in that age bracket.
NNAMDIWe certainly do.
GRAHAMAnd, you know, I'm slightly insulted you didn't have me on Tech Tuesday despite my...
NNAMDIWell, you are associated with Facebook, so...
GRAHAMBut I'm no technologist, but I'd say this, the successful news organizations of the future are going to have great journalists and great tech people.
NNAMDIBack in 2002, Scott Sherman wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, Katherine Graham will be remembered for the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. One suspects that Don Graham will be remembered for preserving the franchise in an epoch of journalistic degradation and tawdry capitalist excess. You're going to hold on to this.
GRAHAMWell, you know, folks can write what they want. I -- you know, I have a computer obviously sitting in my room at home. But the newspaper comes to the door, the old-fashioned print newspaper, and I'm old enough and habituated enough that I pick up the newspaper. I read it in the correct manner.
NNAMDIGot to hold it in my hands every day.
GRAHAMYeah, I read it in the correct manner, from the sports section out, and...
GRAHAMOh, God, the sports page of The Washington Post is, you know...
NNAMDIWell, you used to work for the sports page.
GRAHAMI had one glorious year as sports editor of The Washington Post. Ben Bradley, who still comes to the Post every day -- and whom I simply love -- we had lunch together yesterday in the cafeteria. And, you know, the chance to work with him is something we all love.
NNAMDIThat year as sports editor is?
GRAHAMBen made me sports editor for one year and said, go find somebody to be the permanent sports editor. And I chose as my deputy someone named George Solomon, who then ran the place for 25 years, hired Kornheiser, hired Wilbon. And George is now the dean of the sports journalism program at the U of Maryland journalism school.
NNAMDIYes. He's emailing me every single day, as a matter of fact.
GRAHAMHe -- well, pay attention to his emails, Kojo.
NNAMDII certainly do, and I show up whenever he asks me to. On to the telephones, here is Muhammad in Washington, D.C. Muhammad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MUHAMMADAh, good morning -- actually good afternoon, Kojo...
MUHAMMAD...and Don. It's very refreshing to hear two old guys talking about newspapers. I'll give you a little story. Kojo, I'm from your neck of the woods. And I grew up on reading. You know, back in Guyana, we didn't have TVs and -- we had radios.
NNAMDIWe had radio. We certainly didn't have TV. You're right.
MUHAMMADWe had a radio. I'm a TV man now. I work in television, but there's nothing I relish more than picking up that Sunday newspaper, sitting on my couch and reading the paper. And then my daughter, who's 10 years old, she picks it up, and she goes for the comics. But just to see this little child with a big paper in her hand crinkling at, you know, the sound of The Post -- you guys didn't mention that -- the song of the newsprint is also an esoteric factor involved in reading the paper when you fold it.
MUHAMMADBut I was getting ready to recycle my Post last night. I realized that I hadn't read the paper in a week. And I could not put it down until 1 o'clock in the morning. That's the way -- sorry, excuse me -- that's the way I read The Post. You know, I pick it up. And an article catches my eye, and I start to read. Then I go to the outlook, and I read about the world affairs. But at my heart, I'm a television production guy. But, when I'm at my home, I put my foot up, and I read The Washington Post.
NNAMDIAnd you don't read the paper online?
MUHAMMADI -- sometimes, but then if you have to log in and give your password -- and I cannot keep track of passwords, you know? If it's -- I think what's going to do -- and I don't know if they do it now is that make it accessible by not having a password.
NNAMDIDonald Graham, what's the challenge of trying to please both Muhammad and your younger and other audience that wants to read the paper online, that wants to check it out on Facebook, that wants to use social media?
GRAHAMWell, you got to do both. And the -- as I said, the key thing for a news organization if you have to have a story to tell., you have to have reporters, you, once in a while, have Marc Fischer in the studio.
NNAMDIOh, I sure do.
GRAHAMAnd I'll stand by Marc as a sample. Both Marc has been a reporter and a columnist for us, and he's been an editor creating ideas. And when Marc writes something, he tells you something you didn't know before you read the story. That's the challenge. And if you get people who can tell you something you didn't know -- and they're all over the paper this morning -- then it's a challenge to the technology people and to the -- in fact, to those who print and deliver the newspaper, to put it in a form that readers want.
NNAMDIRecent articles in both the New York Times and Vanity Fair recount early opportunities that you had to bring The Post online and to have political take root in house that you turned down. With the benefit of hindsight, what have you learned from those experiences?
GRAHAMOh, actually, that's not -- that's actually...
NNAMDINot 100 percent accurate?
GRAHAMNo. I'm actually quite proud of the fact that when -- The Post was online before there really was much of a World Wide Web...
NNAMDIThat's true, back in the early '90s.
GRAHAM...we were online with something called Digital Ink, which was a paid site back in the day. But we were lucky. We had a president of our company named Alan Spoon, an older -- some of your guests on Tech Tuesday will remember a guy who was a big feature in the D.C. tech community. He was with The Post for 18 years, thank goodness, and then went to become a VC in Boston, where he's been extremely successful. And his son is now just an absolute genius out in Silicon Valley.
GRAHAMBut we were lucky enough in those days to have the smartest tech person in the newspaper industry behind us. Alan put -- Alan -- when washingtonpost.com started, I was the publisher of The Post. But I knew that Alan knew 10 times as much as I did about technology, and I said, run this thing. And thank goodness he did. And we started up with the earliest newspaper sites, built a massive audience and got into, for instance, classified advertising on the Web probably three years before other newspapers did with the result that we built a very big business in and retain it.
NNAMDIThat's one of the biggest losses that the newspaper itself has had, the loss of classified ad with the advent of things like Craigslist and the like. Got to try to make up that. And one of the ways in which the newspaper had been making it up, speaking of investments, was by your ownership of Kaplan. As publisher of The Post, you won the reputation for standing up for your journalists as CEO of The Post Company.
NNAMDIYou've done the same for businesses you oversee, like Kaplan, which has been under criticism for its recruiting techniques, allegations that it was aggressively recruiting students who simply couldn't afford to repay their loans, and that you lobbied Sen. Tom Harkin in September of 2010 as they were holding hearings on the for-profit education industry. What is your own response to those criticisms?
GRAHAMWell, I'm the CEO of The Washington Post Company, which owns Kaplan. I don't run Kaplan. But I am very proud of the business and of the people who do run it. And what's -- you're talking about Kaplan's Higher Education business. Kaplan's most famous business is probably test prep, a whole lot of people.
NNAMDITesting, test preparation.
GRAHAMStanley Kaplan was a high school teacher in Brooklyn who was turned down for med school because he was Jewish. And when the SAT started up, he said to himself, well, you know, this SAT, kids will be able to prove how smart they are regardless of their ethnicity or their gender. He started coaching his high school students on how to take the SAT, soon found he was pretty good at it, soon found he could teach other people to coach high school students, and then he knew he had a business. And that business is a great business.
GRAHAMIt still prepares more people for graduate school and college than anybody else. In 2001, we got into the -- we bought a group of colleges, which trained people for jobs mostly in health careers. And this is what our higher education does. It offers courses which train people for jobs or give them skills they may want to get a better job. It is not a college in the sense that you immediately think of when you hear the word. Our average student is around 30 years old. Many of them are in brick-and-mortar campuses.
GRAHAMSome are -- many are on the Internet where they're even older, say, average age, 34. And a simple fact about the United States today: The Department of Education says that 60 percent of jobs in the United States require some college, require a degree. Forty percent of people in the United States have a degree of any kind, associates degree, bachelor's degree. So the country is going to have to have growing innovative educational institutions that offer people the practical skills they need to get a job.
GRAHAMIt isn't the same as University of Maryland, as Howard University, whatnot. It's a different job. And the people of Kaplan relish it, are good at it, and I'm proud of them.
NNAMDIDo you think it was, I guess, inappropriate for you to lobby Sen. Tom Harkin about Kaplan?
GRAHAMI think it would've been inappropriate of me not to. It is -- you know, I'm the CEO of the company. I rarely lobby on anything. The last thing I had lobbied extensively on on Capitol Hill was, with the permission of the editors of The Washington Post, was the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program in 1997 and '98, which...
NNAMDIThat you're involved with very heavily.
GRAHAM...I was then and am now deeply involved with for the same reason because it offered dramatically expanded educational opportunity for people who need it. But the issues facing Kaplan's Higher Ed unit were important to The Washington Post Company. And when something is of great importance, I would be making -- I would be not doing my job if I didn't speak up to anyone who would listen about the issue, which is what I'm happy to do today.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have questions or comments for Donald Graham, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company. Kaplan has offered first-time students the option of dropping out without paying fees during a trial period up to a month. Nevertheless, student enrollments, online and on campuses fell at the end of 2011, down 23 percent from the end of 2010. And Kaplan was a fairly profitable enterprise helping to offset some of the losses at the newspaper. Does this concern you?
GRAHAMOh, Kojo, you've gone to the heart of the matter with that question, but pause for a minute. Think about the college you went to and think about the previous question you asked me regarding aggressive recruiting and whatnot. Well, this is -- now, Kaplan University -- now, Kaplan's Higher Education campuses and Kaplan University make every student the following offer: If you enroll and take courses, you don't enroll for a trial period. You don't enroll and take nine credit courses.
GRAHAMYou enroll in the courses you want to take, so you enroll for four to five weeks. You try it. You see whether it is the program that the counselor described to you. You see whether it fits your life. You know, you have a job. You have children. You need -- you know, you want to go back to college. If, after four or five weeks, you decide or you don't do well academically and we decide that the institution is not for you, you're no longer there, and you don't owe us anything. You owe no tuition. You incur no debt.
GRAHAMYou have to pay a registration fee, I think, $45 or $50, but there is no debt involved. This is the only college I know of in the United States making that offer. When I talk to college presidents who serve a lower demographic population, they tend to say, if we did that, we'd be out of business. That is why our enrollments are down, Kojo, in part, because that's not an enrollment.
GRAHAMIf the student drops after four of five weeks, they've never enrolled. They owe no tuition. So people concerned about student debts, about students defaulting on their debt, this is one model to look at, which, in our -- in the case of our institution, is going to dramatically reduce the incurrence of debt and the rate of default. And it's going to make sure that this educational institution is a good one for the students who are enrolling in it.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Denis in Washington, D.C. Denis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MR. DENIS COLLINSYeah. I just wanted to talk about the dramatic things that Don Graham did when he took over the paper. I'll give you one example: Me. I was working in the basement of The Washington Post as a paper handler, and I wanted to be a reporter. I saw that I had no experience with it, but I applied for a job. And since I didn't have much to show, I wrote some stories and sent them with -- you know, with that.
MR. DENIS COLLINSTwo days later, Don Graham called me up and said, I like this scoop, this one story, and we might print it if you go do a little more work. Anyway, the end of the story is that, after a year or so, still in the basement, I became a reporter for Washington Post. And there were many people that benefited from his being there and his kindness and -- so anyway, I just wanted to…
NNAMDIWhat's your last name, Denis, if you can...
GRAHAMDenis Collins, how are you, buddy?
COLLINSDenis Collins -- good. How are you?
GRAHAMAnd, Kojo, you want to know this man. Denis has gone on to be an author of both nonfiction -- you've also published a novel, right? Your book is a nonfiction book?
COLLINSI've written a nonfiction book and a fiction book.
GRAHAMYeah. This is a very extraordinary man. You would really -- your listeners would really enjoy reading...
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt for a second. Denis, did Don Graham have any idea that you will be calling in on this broadcast?
GRAHAMI haven't talked to Denis in years.
COLLINSNo, none whatsoever. I was in the car driving when I heard...
NNAMDIHow many -- during the course of your tenure at The Washington Post, Don Graham, how many reporters have passed through there?
GRAHAMWell, I've had the joy of knowing a lot of reporters. I haven't known many. Denis, tell Kojo...
NNAMDIHow could you know...
GRAHAMWait a minute. Hang on one second.
NNAMDII'm sure you had a lot of Denises working at The Post over that time...
GRAHAMNo, no, no, no, no. Denis...
NNAMDI….but nobody with the last name Collins. And you got it right off?
GRAHAMHey, Denis, tell Kojo what a paper handler does.
COLLINSWell, the paper handler is down at the lowest level of the -- you know, where we are The Post, and you take these 400-pound rolls of paper. You rip off the covering. You put it on a cart, and you push it around to where the pressmen were. Now, what was interesting, I was hired to integrate the -- being in that part of the building because it was all-black for the paper handlers and then all-white for the pressmen.
COLLINSSo when I went to apply to see if I could get a job at The Post, they -- the guy who looked at me -- I kind of had a bit of a beard and long hair, and I could see he was -- had no interest in me until he saw -- he said, wait a minute, Talladega, that's a black college, I thought. And I said, yeah, well, I went to the first semester there, Talladega. And he looked at me and said, you're hired.
COLLINSI had no idea what that was about, but (unintelligible) Don was, I think, very much, in part, wanted to get the people from -- in that lowest rung to have the chance to rise up. So, anyway, you know, it's...
GRAHAMIt's a long story.
GRAHAMBut, Denis and I -- the only way I'd edit you is to say it wasn't an all-white pressroom when you came to work there, and it isn't today.
COLLINSYeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
NNAMDIDenis Collins, thank you so much for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation with Donald Graham. If you have called, we'll try to get to your calls. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIOur guest is Donald Graham. He's the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company. He joins us in studio. Can we take a step back for a minute? In 1933, your grandfather famously bought The Washington Post at a bankruptcy sale. His background was in finance, not journalism. What inspired him to buy the paper?
GRAHAMIt's a great story. I doubt there's anybody listening to this program today who knew Eugene Meyer, my grandfather. He died in 1958 or nine, but he was 57, Kojo. He had never run a business, and he had never worked for a newspaper. But he had come to Washington -- he was -- his father was French, who was an immigrant to California in the mid-19th century. And my grandfather came to Washington, volunteered -- he was in his 40s, but he volunteered to come to work for free for President Wilson, any job he wanted.
GRAHAMHe had made a lot of money on Wall Street. And President Wilson asked him to work on organizing industries, to produce ammunition and food for the war. He stayed afterwards and had a series of jobs in the government during the '20s, and he was ethical enough, way in advance of his time. He became governor of the Fed, and he didn't think people in such a job should hold stocks.
GRAHAMSo he sold them, and he was -- all in government bonds and gold as a result when the Depression hit completely. It wasn't that he saw the Depression coming. It was that he thought, as an ethical matter, he shouldn't own stocks. By that luck, he had enough money that he not only -- he paid 825,000 bucks for The Post, but it lost money. He expected to break even in three years. He lost money for the next 21 years, which he paid out of his own pocket. He didn't know any other business. And that was...
NNAMDIDo you use that as a guidepost during hard times?
GRAHAMYou bet. So did Katharine Graham, who also ran the paper, had some losing years.
NNAMDIYou also said that, despite the fact that she's a legend in this town, but you say -- and she wrote that she often felt she wasn't up to the job of running The Post. Why do you think that unease never dissipated for her?
GRAHAMIt -- she wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography when she was 80, published it when she was 80. And this was the part of it that readers responded to, was she was so honest about how terrified she was. She had to become a CEO, become a newspaper publisher, become the head of a company, and her experience for the previous 18 years had been raising four children.
GRAHAMAnd she was -- at the time we went public in 1971, I'm pretty sure that she was the only woman CEO of a Fortune 1,000 company. And she became a confidant, a friend of Gloria Steinem, steeply engaged in women's issues. But I'm here to tell you -- and my siblings are here to tell you -- that, in 1963, she was terrified. She -- there was no woman in a job much like hers, and she was self-doubting always. It spared her from the conceit that so many CEOs have, that they know everything
NNAMDIHow do you avoid that conceit?
GRAHAMI'm -- you know -- it's -- if you're in the newspaper business these days, it's not hard.
NNAMDIIt's not difficult. Here is Angela in Washington, D.C. Angela, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANGELAHi. I have a comment. I work for Roosevelt STAY High School.
ANGELAAnd this year, one of our students won an award from the D.C. CAP, and I was so happy because our students are always the forgotten students. They're adults coming to school for the second time, and D.C. CAP gave them hope and another chance to show that they can still overcome and succeed. And I was so happy and appreciative for D.C. CAP awarding one of our students.
NNAMDIDon Graham, what is the nature of your involvement with the College Access Program in the District of Columbia? And explain to our listeners what it is.
GRAHAMBy great good luck in the late 1990s, a group of various CEOs got together, of whom I had the honor to be one. Bill Barrett (sp?) was part of it. A wonderful man named Lou Noto, then the chairman of Mobil Corporation, now gone from the -- new merged into Exxon Mobil, had organized us to get together. And Lou pushed us to figure out a project that would help D.C. in a big way. We wound up lobbying for the D.C. tag for the bill that allows D.C. students to attend state universities -- at that time in Maryland, Virginia and now everywhere -- and pay only the in-state portion of the tuition.
GRAHAMAnd then we promised the members of Congress that this would be a public-private partnership that would create a counseling and scholarship organization. So it -- the wonderful high school Angela mentions, Roosevelt STAY and at Roosevelt itself. And in every D.C. public and charter high school, we have a full-time or part-time D.C. CAP counselor, the most important part of what we do. The college counselor supplements the work of the DCPS counselors and helps tell the juniors and seniors, you can go to college, and it's crucial.
GRAHAMThe job I had as a D.C. police officer in 1969, all you had to have was a high school diploma. Today, you really have to have a couple of years of college. And it -- you -- there aren't that many jobs. If you're a skilled carpenter, a skilled plumber, great, but, for most kids, you have to have college to prepare for the job you want. So D.C. CAP's -- I'm immensely proud of the D.C. College Access Program. And thank you, Angela, for the call.
NNAMDIThank you, Angela, very much for your call. It brings me circling back to how we began this conversation. When I say I think of you as a local guy, the greatest praise that one can hear of Don Graham is that he has insisted that The Washington Post is local newspaper. The greatest criticism you can hear of Don Graham is that he has insisted that The Washington Post is a local newspaper.
GRAHAMWell, we are. We're a local newspaper in the capital of the United States and the capital of the free world, and it's the greatest place in the world to be a local newspaper. National news, obviously, the fact that Gov. Romney won the Illinois primary, and then he says -- advisor said what he did yesterday, that's local news here. But the fact that D.C. Council may be doing something, that's local news, too.
GRAHAMSo we've got to do both. We've got to cover the communities, and we've -- you know, most people, the biggest number of people who live here work for the federal government or work for people who deal with the federal government. I want to give our readers and your listeners one tip that they may -- that's fun and that you would enjoy...
GRAHAM...which is, if you occasionally read The Washington Post on our website, we have a new thing to try, which is called Personal Post. There's a little button, very visible at the top of the page. If you click on that button, you get -- that's all you need to do. Then you sign on. You give your registration and password. And looking back at the articles you've read in The Post in recent months, Personal Post presents you with the recent news, the blog posts, everything from our site that should be of most appeal to you.
GRAHAMI walked Len Downie, the longtime editor of The Post, down to our Labs team yesterday. He signed on to Personal Post, and it started showing him posts from the campaign, from the NBA. Len is this crazed sports fan from, you know, from the Washington Nationals...
NNAMDIYou were a die-hard Washington Redskins fan yourself.
GRAHAMI am a die-hard of Washington sports fan. I learned to read on Shirley Povich's column in The Post when I was 3, and the idea that we have a baseball team that could -- that anybody thinks could be a contender, this is new for me.
NNAMDIIt's been said that you've been one of the guiding force behind WaPo Labs, which just had a big hire, Rob Malda, the founder of Slashdot. What's the goal for that arm of the company?
GRAHAMThe goal is to look ahead, try to skip a generation and try to create ways to deliver the news that people are going to want four, five years from now. Personal Post is a creation of WaPo Labs, and I love it. I've got a long -- it works on The Washington Post the way your Amazon page works. It looks back to what you like and tries to give you more. Amazon is always saying to me, you like this guy's last mystery. Why don't you order this new mystery he's just written? And, like a fool, I always do, even though I have 15 books piled up.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Boyd, who says, "The Washington Post owns two warehouse buildings on the Alexandria waterfront known as Robinson Terminal North and South. Is Mr. Graham aware of the opposition to the waterfront plan" -- well, he is if he listens to this broadcast -- "and the development of these sites? And has The Washington Post had discussions with anyone in the city about donating these sites for a museum?"
GRAHAMThe Washington Post -- this matter was recently considered by the mayor of Alexandria, the city council of Alexandria. We fought a 14-year lawsuit with the federal government to win the right to own and operate that land. And I'm -- as I said, there was just a day-long hearing and then action by the mayor of Alexandria and the city council with which I am indeed familiar.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Jen in D.C., who says, "Given the tremendous integrity The Post demonstrated in publishing the Pentagon Papers, could you, please, comment on what has transpired with WikiLeaks and compare the impact Woodward had with that of Julian Assange?"
GRAHAMI know a lot more about Bob Woodward than I do about Julian Assange. Bob Woodward was trying to make facts public. The Pentagon Papers, my God, that was even before then. And we were trying to tell a story. We weren't trying to influence a result. We weren't trying to make policy. But, in general, I think it is better if people know more about what their government is doing, up to a point. And I don't know enough about WikiLeaks or about Mr. Assange to know his criteria.
GRAHAMI know at The Post, if the government calls Marcus Brauchli, the editor of The Post, and says, we have a problem with something you intend to print, Marcus will listen. He will not necessarily do what the government asks, but he will listen. We do not want to be completely irresponsible, but we do want to bring news to readers that they need.
NNAMDIOne of the main aspects of your personality that is stressed in any profile of you or story you're involved in is how very even-keeled you are. Do you ever lose your temper?
GRAHAMSure, all the time. But, I mean, you and I seem to have a not totally dissimilar temperament, and, you know, it...
NNAMDII hope my children are listening.
GRAHAMThe newspaper -- I have worked at The Washington Post since 1971, and things you print do make people angry. And I am used to that. And when some -- when you're in the newspaper business and someone tells you, you got a story wrong, you want to listen. And I do.
NNAMDIDonald Graham is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company. Thank you so much for joining us.
GRAHAMIt's been a joy. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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