For much of the tail end of the 20th century, America's major metro newspapers were owned by a group of families who often saw the stewardship not only as a means to power, but also as an exercise of civic obligation. Family ownership of the press, in theory and often in practice, meant that the newspapers -- businesses that were also public institutions -- could do their work under the leadership of people who felt responsibility not just to their shareholders, but to the public. And to their families' own legacies.
The early 21st century has shifted that story: as papers' financial fortunes have turned, many of the nation's big newspaper families have been made to sell. From the Chandlers of the Los Angeles Times to the Copleys of the San Diego Tribune to the Cowles of the Minneapolis Star Tribune to the Bancrofts of the Wall Street Journal, the descendants of the men and women who built newspapers into powerful public institutions have, through a combination of circumstance and choice, abandoned their legacies.
It long seemed that the Graham family, however -- whose matriarch, Katharine Graham, had managed to weave the fortunes of The Washington Post into journalistic legend -- would never become part of that group. The Grahams were too much a part of the paper. The paper was too much a part of them.