The business is in danger of losing money due to stagnating digital subscriptions and digital advertising revenues.
The business boomed in the years following Jeff Bezos’ 2013 purchase of The Washington Post. Thousands of readers purchased digital subscriptions. The newsroom nearly doubled in size and added hundreds of journalists.
The Post’s business has been stagnant for the past year. The Trump administration’s breakneck news pace has waned, so readers have moved on to other outlets. The paper’s efforts to expand beyond Beltway coverage have not compensated.
Two people familiar with the company’s financial state claim that the organization will lose money in 2022 after years of profitability. According to multiple people within the Post, the number of digital subscribers the Post has now is less than the three million it had paid in 2020. According to an internal financial document that The New York Times reviewed, digital ad revenue from The Post dropped to $70 million in the first half. This is about 15% less than the amount generated by The Post in the first quarter of 2019.
According to multiple people familiar with the discussions, Fred Ryan, chief executive officer, and publisher, has suggested that newsroom leaders could cut 100 jobs. If they do occur, the cuts could be made through hiring freezes or other means. There are now approximately 1,000 people in the newsroom.
A spokesperson for The Post stated that the organization is not cutting headcount and would instead be adding steadily in the newsroom and “exploring the positions that should be reused to serve larger, national, and global audiences.”
This article was authored by more than 20 people who have access to the business operations of The Post. Many of these people would only speak on condition of anonymity to protect their relationships within the organization. The Post’s newsroom is still one of the most powerful in the country. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for reporting on the Jan. 6 riot at America’s Capitol. Recently, the publication opened international hubs in Seoul and London for round-the-clock editing. It has also invested in personal technology, climate, health, and well-being coverage.
Since President Donald J. Trump’s departure, many news outlets, including The Post, have seen their readership drop. Two of The Post’s most prominent competitors, The New York Times & The Wall Street Journal, have increased their subscriptions since Trump was removed.
The Post’s downturn has caused internal frustration. Top executives are worried that Ryan, Mr. Bezos’ chief business executive, has not taken the necessary steps to increase coverage. Others are also annoyed by the slow marketing efforts of the company, which are steered by Mr. Ryan, and inconclusive discussions about acquiring another news organization.
Tension has been created by Ryan’s insistence on productivity and attendance in the office. Ryan has stated to his leadership that he believes many low performers in his newsroom need to be managed. According to multiple people at The Post, he has been monitoring the number of staff who come to the office and has considered new ways to get them back to work.
Many of the magazine’s top executives, including Sally Buzbee (its chief editor), encourage patience. They believe that the company’s efforts in broadening coverage will eventually attract new customers and result in financial success.
Ms. Buzbee stated that 150 new positions were being added to the newsroom. Joy Robins, The Post’s chief income officer, and Mr. Ryan lead a new initiative called “5 By 25.” This is an effort to reach five million total digital subscribers by 2025.
Ms. Buzbee stated in an interview that “there’s no doubt that we need to diversify what people visit us for.” “That’s the whole strategy of our company.”
Ryan declined to comment on this article. The Post spokeswoman noted that Ryan was a champion of investment. She cited the creation of international news hubs as an example. This initiative is aimed at younger readers and is a partnership between Imagine Entertainment and the Hollywood studio.
The spokeswoman stated that the investments aligned with our strategic roadmap and that the company expects to see advertising and consumer revenue returns on the work in the next year. Bezos is one of the wealthiest men in the world and has stated that an independent newsroom should be self-sufficient. According to someone who knows his interactions, he was frequently at The Washington Post the first few years after purchasing the company. However, he retreated somewhat from newspaper operations during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Zoom and phone calls with Mr. Bezos used to be held every other week. Post executives have also been making trips to Seattle to seek his feedback.
He is still involved in budgeting season calls and weighing in on other matters. Although he declined to comment on this article, The Post spokeswoman stated that any suggestion that Mr. Bezos was less interested in The Post was “absolutely falsified.” However, much of the decision-making is done by Mr. Ryan, 67. He was a former Reagan official and chief executive of Politico. He joined The Post in 2014. Katharine Weymouth was his replacement. She was a descendant of the Graham family, who had been The Post’s long-term owners. He thanked Mr. Bezos for selecting him and said that Ryan was “excited” to get on with the job.
The Post has been trying to diversify its journalism, beyond its political coverage, since at least the summer of 2016. Two people familiar with the plan said that senior editors were considering a plan to expand the newspaper’s coverage to curb a drop in readership due to the election of Hillary Clinton.
After Donald Trump’s victory, the plan code-named Operation Skyfall was scrapped.
According to sources familiar with the meeting, Ryan stated that The Post could become the most authoritative source of news and information in English-speaking countries, as he felt the need to expand beyond Washington coverage. He stated that The Post should be an indispensable source of communication at a subsequent meeting of executives. At least one person interpreted this as a less ambitious goal. Other attendees, including Ms. Buzbee, said that they didn’t see his comments in that manner.
Five people with knowledge of the matter say that executives at The Post have been in extensive internal discussions about whether to purchase other news organizations. Some claimed that The Associated Press and The Economist were among the discussed outlets. In a lengthy memo, the Strategic Review Team stated that it might be logical to acquire The Post to increase its international audience.
Ryan has so far emphasized building The Post’s ability to cover new areas rather than buying rivals.
According to two people familiar with the paper’s branding strategy, Ryan’s decision not to continue some of its brand marketing campaigns was another source of tension for executives at The Post. Ogilvy & Buddha Jones were hired by The Post to create advertising campaigns. However, some of these campaigns were not widely distributed.
One of the campaigns was rendered, but it was never used. It featured a subway ad with the slogan, “We don’t just break the news. The Post also filmed Darryl Fears and Sarah Kaplan, two reporters, for an advertisement on the newspaper’s efforts in covering the changing climate. However, that spot was never run.
According to a source familiar with The Post’s marketing strategy, the company planned a major brand marketing campaign to promote its new coverage areas. The Post ran a campaign called “Jeopardy!” last year about the Afghanistan Papers, which was its investigation into the secret history behind the war in Afghanistan. Ryan expressed frustration with senior newsroom leaders over the lack of productivity among some of the paper’s journalists. He asked the company’s chief information officer to retrieve records about which days employees had videoconference meetings. This was done to assess production levels. Two people familiar with the matter said that Fridays saw fewer meetings.
He is also becoming increasingly frustrated that Post employees are not present at least three days per week, which is the company’s policy.
According to three people familiar with the discussions, Ryan requested that disciplinary letters be written and sent out to employees who hadn’t made an appearance in the office during the year. The letters should not have been sent, and the people should have been contacted instead, Ryan decided. A spokesperson for the Post said that Ryan would welcome employee feedback on the return to office policy.
Some employees took their frustrations to Mr. Ryan. Post management received a letter from reporters covering the Covid-19 pandemic this month. It cited “grave concerns” about the policy.
The letter stated that such decisions were “extremely personal and consequential” and asked management’s permission to let employees make these decisions without fear of being punished by their employers.