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Buffett says he passed on buying Washington Post
First Published Oct 23 2013 03:55 pm • Last Updated Oct 23 2013 08:41 pm

Omaha, Neb. » Investor Warren Buffett says he didn’t buy the Washington Post because he didn’t want it to be a burden on his company or family.

His Berkshire Hathaway Inc. conglomerate has purchased dozens of other newspapers since 2011. And Berkshire was the largest Washington Post Co. shareholder before the newspaper was sold to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million.

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But Buffett told Fortune magazine he only briefly considered buying the Post because he didn’t want to saddle Berkshire’s next CEO or his children with a metro newspaper.

Buffett didn’t go into detail about why he passed on the Post. But he has said in the past that he believes smaller papers will fare better because they remain the primary source of information about their communities.

Buffett served on the Washington Post Co. board for more than two decades, although he retired in 2011. Berkshire has held 1.7 million shares of the company since the early 1970s. The sale to Bezos ended Berkshire’s stake in the newspaper, but Berkshire has not reported a sale of its stake in Washington Post Co. The company, whose holdings still include the Kaplan education business and Foreign Policy magazine, is renaming itself.

Buffett’s comments reinforce the fact that the Washington Post needs an overhaul to stem losses of readers and advertisers to the Internet, said Outsell Inc. media analyst Ken Doctor. "I think what it speaks to is that the Washington Post is a major turnaround," Doctor said.

And Buffett generally prefers to buy strong businesses that he can allow to continue operating much like they were before. He did not immediately respond to a message Wednesday.

Buffett’s newspaper buying binge began in 2011 when he picked up his hometown Omaha World-Herald and the newspapers it owned in Nebraska and Iowa for Berkshire. Then Berkshire bought nearly all of Media General’s newspapers last year, and launched its own newspaper unit.

Berkshire now owns 31 small- and medium-sized daily newspapers bought since the Media General deal. Including weekly papers and other publications, Berkshire owns 70 newspapers.

But newspapers remain a relatively small part of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns more than 80 subsidiaries and holds major stakes in companies like Coca-Cola Co., Wells Fargo and IBM. Berkshire’s subsidiaries include Geico and General Reinsurance, BNSF railroad, MidAmerican Energy utility, Fruit of the Loom, Nebraska Furniture Mart and Dairy Queen.

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