Washington Post confirms layoffs after leaked video of tense town hall

Washington Post confirms layoffs after leaked video of tense town hall

Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Following leaked video of a tense town hall Wednesday, Washington Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan confirmed in an email to staff that the company plans to eliminate a single-digit percentage of its workforce early next year.

Driving the news: The clip, tweeted by a Post reporter, shows Ryan refusing to answer frustrated staffers’ questions about the coming cuts.

Why it matters: The video reflects the Post’s growing business, leadership and cultural challenges.

Details: The video shows Ryan saying as he walks out: “I’m not going to turn this town hall into a grievance session for the Guild.”

  • Employees tried to lob questions. “What are you going to do to protect people’s jobs? Are they going to be treated like the magazine staffers were?” one person asked, referring to sudden layoffs at the Post’s Sunday magazine, which will publish its final issue Dec. 25.
  • A number of the Post’s star reporters — including Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker, Tyler Pager and Shane Harris — decided to join the paper’s union after the town hall, according to reports that were confirmed by Axios.

Ryan said in his follow-up email that the cuts will take place in the first quarter of next year.

  • They’re expected to hit the newsroom, which has nearly doubled to over 1,000 during his eight years as CEO.
  • Ryan implied the cuts would be at least partly offset by new roles: “We expect that, at this time next year, our newsroom will be as large as it is now — if not larger.”

Between the lines: Tensions have been escalating at the Post for months.

  • Three longtime C-suite executives left this year. Steve Ginsberg, a managing editor, left last month to join The Athletic as executive editor.
  • The company isn’t expected to turn a profit this year, according to three sources familiar with its finances, mostly due to planned investments. The paper hired aggressively this year across new focus areas, including wellness and climate.
  • Like most media firms, the Post’s ad business is being hurt by an ad-market slowdown. The company has lost subscribers in the past two years, and now has fewer than 3 million paid digital subscriptions, three sources confirmed. By comparison, the New York Times has more than 10 million paid digital-only subscriptions.
  • The future of the Post’s software business is also in question. The Post last week said it would discontinue its ad tech arm, Zeus, as a standalone business. It passed over opportunities to sell its website publishing business, ArcXP, when the market was hot.

The big picture: Sources say the company has struggled to articulate a long-term vision to staffers, readers and business partners.

  • Jeff Bezos bought the paper in 2013 for $250 million. Under his ownership, the Post has pushed to expand from a regional paper to a national brand with a global footprint.
  • The company hired the AP’s Sally Buzbee as executive editor last year, replacing longtime editor Marty Baron, in part due to her global leadership experience.

What they’re saying: “Today, we came into WaPo’s so-called town hall with questions about recent layoffs and the future of the company,” the Washington Post Guild tweeted.

  • “Our publisher dropped a bombshell on us by announcing more layoffs and then walking out, refusing to answer any of our questions.”

Reality check: Unlike the Times, which has focused narrowly on building and building subscriptions through acquisitions, the Post’s top business priorities are unclear.

  • Last year, an executive said the Post’s software arm, ArcXP, could soon grow to be the company’s biggest revenue stream. Now the company is reportedly exploring a sale of that business again.
  • The Post has invested in new social media and video initiatives in an attempt to lure younger and more diverse audiences.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include details on reporters joining the Post’s union.

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