During his tenure as executive editor of The Washington Post, Martin Barron ran into constant trouble.
Jeff Bezos bought The Post for $250 million in 2013, less than a year after Mr. Barron took over. Mr. Bezos, who came to media ownership after founding Amazon and bringing back online shopping, wanted his chief editor to transform the paper from a regional news organization into a truly global organization.
But Mr. Bezos, whose representatives have been watching the budget, doesn’t think The Post needs to add many new editors to get the job done. Reporters were classified as “direct” staff and editors as “indirect”—and he preferred to keep the “indirect” numbers low.
So, Mr. Barron came up with a workaround, according to his upcoming memoir.
“To avoid sounding alarms in class,” Mr. Barron wrote, “my deputy and I will strip the word ‘editor’ from proposed new positions whenever possible.” “Analyst” or “Strategic Analyst” is among the limited group of solutions. “
These days, Mr. Bezos knows more about the news business. And in recent months he has become more involved in The Post’s operations, stepping in as staff morale plummets and business falters.
Mr. Bezos He said He wants The Post to be profitable, but it’s unlikely to reach that goal this year.
The Post is on track to lose about $100 million in 2023, according to two people familiar with the company’s finances; Two other people briefed on the situation said the company expects to miss its ad revenue forecast this year. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal financial matters. The Post has struggled to increase the number of its paying customers since the 2020 election, when its digital subscriptions peaked at three million. It now has about 2.5 million.
A spokesman for Mr. Bezos declined to make him available for an interview. Interim CEO Patty Stauncifer told The Post that Bezos was pleased with “every dollar invested” in the company. One person familiar with Mr. Bezos’ plans said The Post was planning 2023 to be the “year of investment.”
“I am very excited about what we can do here at The Washington Post in the next decade,” Ms. Stauncifer said in a statement. “Jeff’s second contract ownership of The Post should be even more exciting.”
Mr. Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post ended decades of ownership by the Graham family — who led the newspaper through its legendary coverage of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers — and ushered in a new era of expansion under one of the world’s best-known entrepreneurs. In a meeting with employees shortly after he bought it, Mr. Bezos encouraged Postal employees to experiment digitally, taking advantage of the “gifts of the Internet,” such as global reach, that have made Amazon such an amazing success. Provide ample financial support to expand the newsroom.
Bezos weighed in on producer decisions and hired Fred Ryan, the former CEO of Politico, to be publisher to replace Katherine Weymouth, a scion of the Graham family. He kept Mr. Barron in place as the Post’s senior editor until his retirement in 2021, often referring to him as the best journalism guru his owner could ask for. He helped select Sally Buzby as Mr. Barron’s successor, and invited her to his home in the upscale Kalorama neighborhood of Washington.
But after the initial flurry of interest that lasted several years, and after his decision to step down as CEO of Amazon, Mr. Bezos backed off somewhat at The Post, according to two people familiar with his interactions with the newsroom.
That changed in January, after Mrs. Buzby spoke with Mr. Bezos and delivered an urgent message: Sentiment was low at The Washington Post. Much of it stemmed from mistakes made by the newspaper’s business executive, Mr. Ryan, two people familiar with her remarks said.
Mrs. Buzbee’s relationship with Mr. Ryan has been fraught. He had accused Cameron Barr, her senior vice president, of leaking information about The Washington Post’s operations to the press, according to three people familiar with his comments, who have sought his ouster. Through a spokesperson, Mr. Ryan denied accusing Mr. Barr of leaking information and trying to get rid of him. The newspaper declined to comment on the situation. Two people familiar with the matter said there was no evidence to support the leaked claims.
Many at The Post were frustrated by what they saw as the backward business culture presided over by Mr. Ryan, and they have brought those concerns to Ms. Buzbee.
The Washington Post was also bleeding talent. In the past year, several notable reporters, including Pulitzer Prize winners Eli Saslow, Robert Samuels, and Stephanie McCrummin, have departed, along with senior editors including Mr. Barr. Stephen Ginsburg, senior editor. David Malitz, senior culture editor; and Sheriff Durhams, deputy managing editor.
There was a similar exodus among the post’s top executives, including Shailesh Prakash, its chief information officer; Joe Robbins, Chief Revenue Officer; Kat Downes Mulder, chief production officer; and Christine Coratti Kelly, Communications Officer. (Ms. Robbins, Mr. Saslow, Mr. Mallitz, and Mr. Ginsburg have all joined The New York Times Company.)
In January, Mr. Bezos made rare appearances in the newsroom. He sat in on a morning press meeting, and later in the day met several Postal journalists. During some of his meetings, several postal employees express misgivings about Mr. Ryan’s missteps and the direction of the paper.
In June, Mr. Ryan announced his resignation, telling staff that he plans to start the Center for Public Civility, a new project for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, where he chairs the board. Mr. Bezos agreed to fund the center.
In an interview with The Times last month, Mr. Ryan said he had “a lot of conversations” with Mr. Bezos about the new organization.
Mr. Bezos has appointed Ms. Stonesifer, a friend who has served on Amazon’s board for more than two decades, to run The Post in Mr. Ryan’s absence and serve as interim CEO while they search for a permanent one.
Ms. Stonesiever – who doesn’t get paid for the job – is already starting to put her stamp on The Post. She meets frequently with employees, asking them for feedback on what she calls “flowers,” things people are proud of and want to keep growing, “weeds,” and issues people want to deal with.
On July 11, she and Mr. Ryan hired Alex McCallum, a veteran of The Times and CNN, to be The Post’s director of revenue, and appointed Vineet Khosla as the paper’s chief technology officer. Ms. Stauncifer has also repeatedly told staff that Mr. Bezos is fully committed to the business and sees the newspaper as a legacy for his family.
Mr. Bezos personally pitched his opinion on a pilot project being developed for The Post’s opinion section, which is run by David Shipley, a former Bloomberg editor he helped recruit. The initiative — which does not yet have an official name — is exploring a forum for readers in cities across the US to offer their opinions and comments.
Bezos told confidants that the new endeavor, which is being developed with the help of former New York Magazine editor Adam Moss, represents an opportunity to reach readers who may have tuned in to the news, according to four people familiar with its development. Mr. Bezos held regular meetings with Mr. Shipley to discuss the project.
Other planned changes to The Post include rebooting the 54-year-old’s Style division in September. According to three people familiar with the plan, the overhaul will involve an online redesign.
Mr. Ryan’s exit among the staff is seen as a victory for Ms. Buzbee, whose relations with The Post’s newsroom have been strained at times since joining from the Associated Press two years ago. The Post continued to provide quality journalism and in May won two Pulitzer Prizes for its reporting, while a book written by two Post reporters took home the general award for non-fiction.
Now Ms. Buzbee meets regularly with Ms. Stonesifer and seems energized by that collaboration, according to people in the newsroom, who are also encouraged by Ms. Stonesifer’s close ties to Mr. Bezos.
“There’s a sense of hope that we haven’t had in a long time,” said Sally Quinn, a longtime Post reporter and widow of Ben Bradley, the paper’s former editor-in-chief.