The Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan is stepping down after nine years atop the paper, he said in an email to staffers on Monday. His last day will be August 1.
“We have accomplished one of the most extraordinary transformations in modern media history,” Ryan wrote to staffers. “We have evolved from a primarily local print newspaper to become a global digital publication.”
Amazon founder and chairman Jeff Bezos, the Post’s owner, named Patty Stonesifer as interim CEO.
Ryan will chair the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute’s new nonpartisan venture: The Center on Public Civility, which will receive planning and design support from Bezos, Ryan said.
“I have a deep and growing concern about the decline in civility and respectful dialogue in our political process, on social media platforms and more broadly across our society,” the outgoing publisher wrote, later adding: “Today, the decline in civility has become a toxic and corrosive force that threatens our social interactions and weakens the underpinnings of our democracy. I feel a strong sense of urgency about this issue.”
In a rare email to staffers, Bezos commended Ryan for his nine years of service and praised the Post’s accomplishments during his tenure. “His focus on the intersection of journalism and technology has been of great benefit to readers and has laid the foundation for future growth,” Bezos wrote.
He also lauded Stonesifer, a career executive who has worked in various technology C-suites and has served on the boards of multiple charities and companies—including Amazon.
“Patty has built and led great organizations,” Bezos wrote. “You’ll soon see for yourself why I admire her. Her skills, judgement [sic], and character all stand out. She also understands the importance of our mission and has a deep respect for the work we do here.”
In an introductory meeting with Post staffers on Monday afternoon, Stonesifer said she anticipates remaining interim CEO for up to a year. She added that she will remain on Amazon’s board of directors, plans to house her office in the newsroom, and foresees no further cuts for the time being.
“There is no plan for additional layoffs at this time and no plan for ‘Let’s look at this down the road,’” Stonesifer told staffers, according to two meeting attendees, also adding: “There is nothing in the plans. I would not be your interim CEO if there was.”
Anticipation for her remarks was high, as multiple staffers had issues getting into a Zoom meeting that was capped at 500 attendees. Eventually, that attendance cap was increased.
During Ryan’s tenure atop the Post masthead, the paper won 13 Pulitzer Prizes and transformed itself into one of the top national newspapers in the country during a decade where newspapers as a medium largely receded, boosting digital subscriptions and inflating the size of a larger local newsroom into a global news operation. The paper, under the leadership of veteran editor Martin Baron, also became a chief villain of the Donald Trump presidency through its dogged coverage and continuous exclusive reporting.
However, the newsroom turned tumultuous shortly after Ryan poached Sally Buzbee from the Associated Press to succeed Baron. During Buzbee’s first year and a half as executive editor, the Post saw advertising revenue fall, digital subscriptions wane, internal staff battles, a talent bleed-out to top rivals, and was projected to lose money in 2022, prompting waning confidence in her role. Bezos visited the Post newsroom in January, fueling concerns of a leadership shake-up.
But internal sentiment against Buzbee shifted late last year after Ryan announced at the end of a town hall that the Post would lay off a percentage of staffers in early 2023, inducing a staff outcry and a growing concern that Ryan’s tenure as publisher did the Post more harm than good. (The Post eventually ended its magazine last year and laid off an additional 20 staffers in January.)
However, with Ryan’s exit and Stonesifer’s hiring, top leadership will also see a change in gender diversity. Once managing editor Cameron Barr retires at the end of June and incoming managing editor Matea Gold assumes her role in September, nearly all of the Post’s leaders will be women.